Tag archives: International Religious Freedom

Pew Finds High Rate of Global Restrictions on Religion

by Arielle Del Turco , Cristina Cevallos

October 12, 2021

Each year, the Pew Research Center publishes a report assessing the extent to which governments and societies around the world restrict religious beliefs and practices. This year’s report—which examines 198 countries and contains data up through 2019—shows how much more work needs to be done to protect religious freedom globally.

Social Hostility to Religion Declines Slightly

Let’s start with the good news. The report’s Social Hostilities Index measures acts of hostility to religion by private individuals, organizations, or groups in society. Examples of hostility include religion-related terrorism, mob or sectarian violence, harassment, and other forms of intimidation or abuse. In 2018, 53 countries (27 percent) had “high” or “very high” levels of social hostility, but in 2019 this number was reduced to 43 (22 percent), the lowest it has been since 2009.

Religion-related terrorism incidents (such as deaths, physical abuse, displacement, detentions, destruction of property, and fundraising and recruitment by terrorist groups) are also in decline. According to the Global Terrorism Database, 49 countries experienced at least one of these actions. However, 2019 was the fifth consecutive year of declining global terrorism rates. This decline is largely due to ISIS having lost control in many parts of the world, even though it continued to commit attacks such as the one in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday in 2019 that killed more than 250 people and injured approximately 500 others.

Afghanistan is the greatest exception to these statistics. In 2019, the number of terrorist incidents by the Taliban in Afghanistan increased. Now that the terrorist group has taken control of the entire country, this trend will likely continue to worsen.

Notably, Christians are still the group most likely to be on the receiving end of religious harassment. In 2019, countries harassing Christians increased from 145 to 153. 

Government Restrictions Remain High

The report’s Government Restrictions Index measures government laws, policies, and actions that restrict religious beliefs and practices. In 2019, the number of government restrictions reached its highest level since 2007. Most of the countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions were located either in the Asia-Pacific region or in the Middle East-North Africa region.

Pew’s study reveals that government harassment and interference against religious groups were present in 163 countries (82 percent). All 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region and 91 percent of the European nations had this type of occurrence. These include governments prohibiting certain religious practices, withholding access to places of worship, or denying permits for religious activities or buildings.

High-Tech Threats to Religious Freedom

For the first time, Pew’s study measured governments’ use of online restrictions and advanced technologies (such as surveillance cameras, facial recognition technology, and biometric data) to target religious groups. Pew found that 28 countries (14 percent) have some type of online restriction of religious activity, and 10 countries use technology to surveil religious groups. Most of the countries were located in either the Asia-Pacific region or in the Middle East-North Africa region.

For example, in the United Arab Emirates, the government blocked websites with information on Judaism, Christianity, and atheism. Iran launched cyberattacks against religious minorities. China installed surveillance equipment in houses of worship, used facial recognition technology to monitor and collect biometric data on Uyghur Muslims, and installed software on their phones to monitor their calls and messages. 

Government Repression Is Brutally Enforced

Worst of all, Pew found that 48 percent of all nations used force against religious groups in 2019. China, Myanmar, Sudan, and Syria tallied over 10,000 use-of-force incidents each. These incidents include property damage, detention, arrests, ongoing displacement, physical abuse, and killings.

Among the 25 largest nations (which account for 75 percent of the world’s population), Egypt, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Russia recorded the highest overall levels of restrictions and hostilities against religious people.

Conclusion

Pew’s report demonstrates that many governments are attacking religious freedom rather than protecting it as a human right. Although much has changed since 2019, including a global pandemic, government attitudes seem to remain hostile to people of faith. For now, we can rejoice in the moderately good news that social hostility to religion declined slightly even as we take action to combat problematic global trends. Religious freedom for all people everywhere is worth fighting for.

Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. Cristina Cevallos is majoring in law at the University of Piura in Lima, Peru.

What Does the Future Hold for the Pro-life Movement in Mexico?

by Arielle Del Turco , Cristina Cevallos

October 6, 2021

Culturally conservative Mexico made international news last month when its Supreme Court decriminalized abortion. Four Mexican states had already legalized abortion, but the Supreme Court’s decision marks a major shift for a country with one of the largest Catholic populations in the world.

Mexico has a fairly conservative and religious culture. Yet, the Mexican Supreme Court dictated from the top down a decision that likely wouldn’t have passed if put to the Mexican people for a vote. A strong majority (60 percent) of Mexicans oppose abortion.

On September 7, the Mexican Supreme Court unanimously declared some articles of the state of Coahuila’s Penal Code, which penalized those who had or assisted in an abortion, as unconstitutional. Two days later, the same judges invalidated an article of the Sinaloa state constitution, which established: “[t]he State protects the right to life from the moment an individual is conceived.”

But the assault on life in the womb did not stop there. On September 13, the Mexican Supreme Court began to hear arguments concerning a law that seeks to restrict medical professionals’ conscientious objections to participating in abortions. A final ruling has yet to be made. 

This attack on conscience protections is devastating for people of faith, those who believe life begins at conception, and for medical workers whose professional opinions make them reluctant to participate in abortions. In the few Mexican states where abortion is legal, many medical professionals have refused to participate in carrying out abortions. Conscience protections are essential to protecting their freedom to live in accordance with their deeply held beliefs.

The Mexican Supreme Court’s decriminalization ruling implies that there are Mexican women in prison for having abortions. But that’s not the case. According to the National Penitentiary Registry of Mexico, no woman is currently in jail for having an abortion. There are five female abortionists currently serving sentences for carrying out illegal abortions, but even these cases were only prosecuted because they resulted in the death of the mother.

Notably, the chief justice of the Mexican Supreme Court, Arturo Zaldívar, said, “From now on, a new path of freedom, clarity, dignity, and respect for all pregnant persons, but above all for women, begins.” By referring to “pregnant persons” as opposed to pregnant women, Zaldívar is adopting a dangerous gender ideology that denies the scientific reality of the biological distinctions between the sexes.

Pro-abortion activists hope Mexico’s Supreme Court rulings will put pressure on other countries to take steps in the same direction. Mexico’s decriminalization decision comes right after Argentina’s legalization of abortion and Ecuador’s decriminalization of abortion in cases of rape. Pressure from international organizations is also a factor in abortion’s increasing momentum in Latin America. In Mexico alone, the International Planned Parenthood Federation has invested more than $18 million in abortion advocacy between 2008 and 2016.

In a New York Times op-ed, Melissa Ayala wrote about the Mexican Supreme Court’s decriminalization decision, saying, “The justices said what has long been intuitive to feminist activists: that someone who is not yet born does not have the same protection as someone who already is alive.” This is a disturbing and revealing sentence—one that gets at the heart of the pro-abortion argument. It’s the dangerous assumption that a child in the womb is not already alive and that a woman’s comfort and convenience is worth more than the unborn child’s fundamental right to life.

Sadly, the Mexican legal system is moving towards embracing a culture of death. Yet, there is still reason for hope for the pro-life movement in Mexico. On October 3, thousands of women rallied across Mexico to protest the Supreme Court decision. The pro-life majority should not let radical Supreme Court justices decide the fate of the unborn. Now is the time for pro-lifers in Mexico and across Latin America to make their voices heard.

Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. Cristina Cevallos is majoring in law at the University of Piura in Lima, Peru.

China Must Stop Sending North Korean Defectors Back into Grave Danger

by Arielle Del Turco , Tyler Watt

September 29, 2021

North Korea is infamous for having one of the worst human rights records on earth. In recognition of this fact, some human rights advocates dubbed September 24, 2021, as “Save North Korean Refugees Day.”

Crossing the border into China is the only option for most North Koreans trying to escape from North Korea. Yet, when they arrive in China, they face a whole new set of dangers. Most North Korean defectors are women, and most are sold into human trafficking once they arrive in China, often as brides for Chinese men.

Defectors who are caught by Chinese authorities and sent back to North Korea face an even worse fate, as the North Korean regime brutally punishes repatriated defectors. North Korean Freedom Coalition Chair Suzanne Scholte says that “certain torture, imprisonment and potential death” await the defectors upon their forced return to North Korea.

One Christian North Korean defector, Ji Hyeona, has shared her harrowing story of enduring a forced abortion in a North Korean labor camp after she was repatriated (the regime does not recognize half-Chinese children). She said:

Every night, I heard the screams of women going through forced abortions in the prison camp.

I, too, could not avoid this fate, as I was three months pregnant with a half-Chinese, half-Korean baby in my womb.

Where they placed me was not a hospital bed, but it was a desk. And a fearful-looking doctor forcibly pried open my legs and inserted forceps and started killing my baby in my womb by cutting up and shredding my baby.

This is the level of cruelty experienced by repatriated defectors.

The threat posed to religious freedom by these brutal repatriations should not be ignored. Upon their return to North Korea, one of the first questions defectors are asked by authorities is if they met any Christian missionaries. Responding in the affirmative would guarantee time in a labor camp or even a death sentence.

Many North Korean defectors encounter Christianity for the first time while in China, either by South Korean missionaries ministering to them or by seeking help from Chinese churches. For newly converted Christians, returning to North Korea is all the more dangerous. The North Korean regime views religion of any sort as a threat to the Kim regime’s stranglehold on the minds of its citizens—a threat they will brutally suppress.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea has become even more isolated and repressive. The U.S. State Department recently issued a statement condemning the North Korean regime for the “increasingly draconian measures [it] has taken, including shoot-to-kill orders at the North Korea-China border, to tighten control of its people under the guise of fighting COVID-19.” With devastating conditions such as these, it is all the more important that China stop repatriating North Korean defectors.

North Korea’s human rights violations, especially those against repatriated defectors, are well-documented. China is party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, which states that refugees should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. With North Korea’s long history of human rights violations, it is wrong for China to repatriate defectors back to North Korea. Instead, Beijing should cooperate with the South Korean government to help bring defectors to South Korea, a safe country that is ready and willing to take them.

Letters sent to President Xi Jinping and Chinese ambassadors have called upon the Chinese government to uphold the human rights of the defectors and pursue a plan to resettle to willing countries, especially South Korea which offers defectors automatic citizenship. Activists are delivering appeals for a change in policy at more than a dozen Chinese embassies located around the world.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic caused a brief pause in China’s repatriation of defectors, they have since resumed, placing thousands of North Korean defectors currently in China at risk. Now more than ever, the Chinese government should be held accountable for sending defectors back to certain punishment in North Korea.

The UK Is at a Crossroads of Conscience Concerning Assisted Suicide

by Arielle Del Turco

September 16, 2021

A bill proposed in the Scottish Parliament would legalize physician-assisted suicide, adding Scotland to a growing list of countries that allow the practice. What the Scottish Parliament eventually decides to do with the bill will reveal something about the conscience of the nation. Will Scots choose to tell their fellow man their lives are worth living, or not?

Liam McArthur, a Liberal Democrat member of the Scottish Parliament, proposed the bill, which would allow terminally ill patients thought to have six months or less to live to choose to end their lives. All forms of assisted suicide are currently illegal across the United Kingdom (UK), but recent polling suggests the UK public is increasingly favorable towards the practice.

Critics of the bill from the medical field say that policies allowing for physician-assisted suicide fundamentally reorient the purpose of medical care. In July, 200 medical professionals signed an open letter opposing the bill, saying, “The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised. The prohibition of killing is present in almost all civilised societies due to the immeasurable worth of every human life.”

The bill in the Scottish Parliament is part of a wider push for assisted suicide across the United Kingdom. Baroness Meacher introduced a bill in the UK Parliament in May that would similarly legalize physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, demonstrating a failure to acknowledge that any person—even those who are terminally ill—who seeks to end his life is in need of love, support, and treatment for depression.

UK Bishop John Sherrington warned of the dangers of a gradual expansion of the criteria by which one might be eligible for physician-assisted suicide. Indeed, other European countries have slipped further down this dangerous slope. For example, Belgium and the Netherlands allow physician-assisted suicide for psychiatric reasons, even for patients in perfect physical health. Such an allowance makes it clear that a state’s endorsement of assisted suicide is really an endorsement of all suicide. Not surprisingly, both countries have seen a sharp rise in assisted suicide in recent years.  

A major victory for proponents of assisted suicide was announced on September 14 when the British Medical Association adopted a “neutral” stance on the issue when they had previously been against it. The vote was narrow—with 49 percent of the association in favor and 48 percent against the “neutral” stance—but the effects will be substantial. Members of Parliament had often pointed to the medical community’s opposition to assisted suicide when Parliament voted against it previously.

Proponents of assisted suicide say they are motivated to end physical suffering. But the reality is that many patients who choose assisted suicide do not cite pain as the primary reason. The Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund reports:

[T]he overwhelming majority of the people in Oregon who have reportedly used that state’s assisted suicide law wanted to die not because of pain, but for reasons associated with disability, including the loss of autonomy (89.9 percent), the loss of the ability to engage in activities that make life enjoyable (87.4 percent), the loss of dignity (83.8 percent), and the loss of control of bodily functions (58.7 percent). Furthermore, in the Netherlands, more than half the physicians surveyed say the main reason given by patients for seeking death is “loss of dignity.”

The legalization of assisted suicide is intrinsically linked with devaluing the lives of people living with disabilities. While the reasons many people choose assisted suicide are not related to pain and suffering, they are related to struggles people with a disability face every day. Although not everyone with a disability has a terminal illness, everyone with a terminal illness eventually develops a disability. Society cannot condone those with terminal illnesses killing themselves without simultaneously condoning those with disabilities killing themselves. The message to those with disabilities is loud and clear: a life with a disability is not worth living. 

In addition, a 2007 study about assisted suicide patients in the state of Oregon found that 45 percent of assisted suicide patients made that choice out of fear of becoming a burden to their families. Thus, assisted suicide does not primarily serve to end suffering, as its advocates would have us believe.

Elderly patients, especially those who fear being a burden, are vulnerable to manipulation or family pressure, and it can be difficult to comprehensively safeguard against this. Even knowing that assisted suicide is an option can pressure some people into choosing death if they think they will become a future burden to their family or society. Instead of offering them assisted suicide, these concerns should be met with assurances that their lives are worth living and that we are prepared to love and support them to the end.

At its core, assisted suicide promotes a false compassion. It benefits caretakers or families who prefer not to observe or care for someone experiencing trials at the end of their lives, rather than the patients themselves. We ought instead to exercise true compassion, the root of which means to “suffer with.”

Even if assisted suicide was primarily utilized to end suffering, it focuses the efforts of doctors, medical professionals, policymakers, and others toward the wrong goal. The goal ought not to be ending human suffering at all costs. In a broken world, suffering will always be with us.

An appropriate goal that truly treats humans with dignity is to love people well by providing everyone with the best medical care, emotional and spiritual resources, and community support possible until their lives come to natural ends.

Doctors should be focused on healing patients and enabling them to live as well as they can for as long as they can. Premature death is not an equally valid option in the category of health care—rather, it sidesteps health care entirely.

The Scottish Parliament will debate the issue this fall, and the UK House of Lords will debate its bill later this year. One thing is for sure—this issue will test the conscience of the people. Concerned individuals should reach out to their members of Parliament about the dangers of assisted suicide and the value of all human life.

Those in favor of assisted suicide have co-opted the phrase “death with dignity,” but they fail to recognize that human dignity cannot be taken away by life’s circumstances.  It is because human beings have dignity that all people must be loved, supported, and cared for until natural death.

Biden Wants Us to Forget about Afghanistan. We Must Not.

by Arielle Del Turco

September 15, 2021

Even as the front pages of newspapers have noticeably shifted away from focusing on Afghanistan, reports trickling in from that country are increasingly troubling.

Recent reports tell us: Taliban fighters have hunted down and killed four elite Afghan counterterrorism agents from American and British-trained units. The Taliban’s new acting government is comprised of many of the same characters the United States and our allies kicked out of power in 2001. The United Nations has warned that one million Afghan children face possible starvation in a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.

The effects of President Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan are still unfolding. Biden would no doubt love for his role in the Afghanistan debacle to fade quietly into history. We cannot let that happen.

Afghan women are perhaps the largest group of people to endure immense suffering in the fallout of the clumsy withdrawal and the subsequent Taliban takeover.

Countless women and girls in Afghanistan are facing an impossible future, with reports surfacing that women must be segregated in universities, women may no longer work alongside men, and women may be prevented from playing sports. These are disastrous steps backward for women’s rights in a country that made a lot of progress in the past 20 years. And it’s happening under Biden’s watch.

The Left has long styled themselves as the champions of women’s rights. So, what does the Biden administration have to say about the rights of Afghan women?

When asked about the future of women’s rights in Afghanistan during a Senate hearing this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that ever since the Taliban takeover, the U.S. government has “worked to rally the international community to set very clear expectations going forward to include the expectation that it will uphold the rights of women and girls as well as minorities.”

It’s unlikely that these lackluster diplomatic efforts will comfort the millions of women in Afghanistan who have just been sent back to the dark ages.

Presumably, the “minorities” Blinken referred to include religious minorities, such as Christians, Hazara Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs. Those who have not managed to flee are in great danger.

Eric Patterson wrote in Providence that “Christians and other religious minorities are fearful of venturing out in public, despite their needs for groceries, medical assistance, and other basic necessities.” Patterson also heard reports that Taliban spies collected the names of possible Christians by infiltrating crowds of people outside the Kabul airport hoping to escape.

Instead of working to help vulnerable Christians, the Biden administration made it more difficult for believers to flee. Private charities are still trying to help rescue vulnerable religious minorities and other at-risk Afghans with their own flights out of Afghanistan. Those involved in private rescue efforts say that the State Department has hindered efforts to rescue vulnerable Afghans.

It’s a life-and-death situation for those on the ground; what justification could there possibly be for blocking private flights not even headed to the United States?

In addition, the State Department also neglected to make religious minorities eligible for the Priority 2 (P-2) designation granting them access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Conversion from Islam is a crime punishable by death under the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law, and Christian converts face almost certain death for their religious views. Even though there were only a small number of Afghan Christians to begin with (several thousand), they were not prioritized by the Biden administration.

Biden’s disastrous withdrawal will also forever affect the families of the 13 U.S. military members who died in a suicide attack from ISIS-K at the Kabul airport in the chaotic last days of the evacuation. The grief of their families will not soon subside. Although they volunteered to serve our country knowing the risks, poor strategic decisions unnecessarily put them in harm’s way.

Some commentators have noticed that the newsiness of the Afghanistan withdrawal is “over.” But not so for those whose lives have been forever changed. In his public comments, Biden seems to coldly evade that fact.

Biden’s disaster in Afghanistan is not over by a long shot. The suffering of millions of people will far outlast the news cycle. And so should our collective memory.

IRF 101: Perils for Christians in India

by Arielle Del Turco , Tyler Watt

September 7, 2021

This blog is part of an International Religious Freedom 101 series providing an overview of religious freedom challenges in countries around the world. Read our previous installments on TurkeyPakistanSri LankaVietnamUzbekistan, and Nigeria. 

In May 2021, a mob of radical Hindus attacked Pastor Ramesh Bumbariya’s family after they refused to renounce their Christian faith. One of the armed assailants shot Bhima Bumbariya, the father of Pastor Bumbariya, killing him. Pastor Bumbariya and two other members of his family were hospitalized.

Even in the face of his father’s death, Pastor Bumbariya thanked God for His faithfulness. He was comforted by his conviction that God had a plan for his life to continue ministering to his community.

As Hindu nationalism continues to surge in India, the violence committed against this Christian family is just one example among hundreds. The violence stems from social hostility to religious minorities and state policies that reinforce such sentiments—making it more difficult for religious minorities to thrive in the Hindu-dominated state.

Mob Violence against Christians and Others

Christians in India number in the tens of millions but still only comprise just over two percent of the country’s population. Many Indian Christians come from historically lower castes in society, which can make them even more vulnerable to discrimination or social pressure. As the Evangelical Fellowship of India reported, the first half of 2021 saw at least 145 acts of violence perpetrated against Christians. These included several religiously motivated murders. These acts are all part of a larger effort to “purify” India of non-Hindu influences.

Some members of the Hindu majority feel threatened by the presence of Christians, especially when Hindus convert to Christianity. Some Hindus have led social movements to “reconvert” Indians back to Hinduism, even if the potential reconverts or their families were never adherents to Hinduism in the first place. These ceremonies are oftentimes forced or coerced.

Christians are not the only minority facing discrimination and threats because of their religion. More than 30 Muslims were killed in mob violence in New Delhi in 2020, following the passage of a law that created easier pathways to citizenship for specifically non-Muslim immigrants. The police were later found to be complicit in allowing these acts of violence to take place.

Several states in India have passed the “Freedom of Religion Act,” an ironically titled piece of legislation that makes it difficult or illegal for individuals to convert to their spouse’s faith at the time of marriage. Although proponents of the ban assert that a ban on this form of conversion protects women entering arranged or coerced unions, the result of the ban seems to disproportionately affect religious minorities. 

Anti-Conversion Laws Used to Control Faith

As previously documented by FRC, several Indian states have legislation restricting religious conversion. Odisha (formerly Orissa), Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand prohibit religious conversion by use of “force,” “allurement,” or “fraudulent means” and “require district authorities be informed of any intended conversion one month in advance.” Punishment varies by state, but the maximum is imprisonment for a term of three years and/or a fine of 50,000 rupees ($700). Some states require “individuals wishing to convert to another religion and clergy intending to officiate in a conversion ceremony to submit formal notification to the government.”

Such anti-conversion laws prohibit people from converting to another religion, and governments utilize them to maintain a majority of the population within their preferred religion. They are often framed as if they are protecting people from being tricked or “induced” into changing their faith. Yet, they often discourage people from sharing their faith at all.

Activities that seek to convert people in these states must be reported to local authorities weeks in advance. As advocacy organizations like International Christian Concern have reported, the anti-conversion laws in place throughout India are one-sided, targeting religious minorities while leaving members of the Hindu majority unaffected.

Social Hostility and the Dangers of Hindu Nationalism

A growing political agenda pushed by Hindu nationalist political parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), sometimes inspires violence against Christians and Muslims. For example, this summer, members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) rallied in Chitrakoot (a town held as a holy site in Hinduism) and developed a new party slogan: “Chadar aur Father Mukt Bharat,” which translates to: “An India Liberated of Muslims and Christians.”

Whether the violence is directed toward Muslims, Christians, or any other religious minority, the outcome is the same: the social position of the targeted group is weakened. Religious minorities feel less comfortable meeting to worship, setting up new social services like schools and clinics, and even walking in the streets of their home cities and villages. An apathetic government allows persecution to continue, especially in far-flung rural areas far from the areas that experience greater influence from Western values of tolerance and religious pluralism. 

India’s status as a democracy and a strategic ally of the United States should not prevent us from speaking out in defense of vulnerable Indian believers experiencing persecution. Exposing the truth and praying for the protection of all downtrodden people are the first steps toward fostering a better future for believers in India.

Explainer: What the Taliban Takeover Means for Afghan Believers

by Arielle Del Turco , Tyler Watt

August 19, 2021

Open Doors, a ministry that supports persecuted Christians around the world, considers Afghanistan to be only slightly less hostile to Christianity than North Korea. Now, following the Taliban takeover, the Christian community in Afghanistan (estimated to be comprised of a few thousand believers) is under heightened pressure. The last few priests remaining in the country are hoping to flee, and underground Christians are fearing their own deaths.

Even before the Taliban consolidated control over the country, religious freedom was basically non-existent in Afghanistan. As the world’s attention has turned to Afghanistan, we must remember the plight of some of the most vulnerable in Afghan society. 

What Is the Recent History of Christianity in Afghanistan?

Christianity has always been a minority religion in Afghanistan, tolerated to varying degrees throughout the country’s history. Following the Taliban’s consolidation of power in 1996, most religious minorities fled the country. Today, hardly any religious minorities remain—the population is 99.7 Muslim. 

Under the Taliban’s brutal rule from 1996-2001, a strict form of Sharia law was imposed, and brutally so. Anyone caught violating the law would be publicly beaten, stoned to death, or executed. 

The Taliban infamously carried out public executions of men and women in Kabul’s soccer stadium, Ghazi Stadium. The events that took place there traumatized a generation, with some thinking that the souls of innocent victims roam the area at night.

Even after the Taliban was ousted in 2001 and a coalition-backed government was instituted, the government was known to deal swiftly with Afghans who converted from Islam to Christianity. These new believers would be asked to recant. If they refused, they would be expelled from the country, often to India. In 2006, Abdul Rahman was tried in court for converting to Christianity 16 years prior, facing the death penalty. 

The only legal church in the country is a Roman Catholic mission located within the Italian Embassy. Yet, even this church was intended to serve only Catholic foreigners temporarily staying in Afghanistan rather than to serve an Afghan Catholic community.

What Is Happening to Christians in Afghanistan Today? 

Today, almost all Christians in Afghanistan come from a Muslim background. A mostly young community that worships in underground house churches, they are forced to hide their faith. For many, even their own families do not know they are Christian. Leaving the Islamic faith is thought to be shameful, and being known to be a Christian can be a very dangerous thing. 

Christians now fear that the Taliban will hunt them down and ultimately kill them. Unfortunately, there are already reports that these fears are valid. One Christian leader told International Christian Concern, “Some known Christians are already receiving threatening phone calls… In these phone calls, unknown people say, ‘We are coming for you.’” 

American Christians are hearing reports from contacts in Afghanistan that many believers feel hopeless. One said, “most expect to meet Jesus face to face in the next two weeks.” 

Christians aren’t the only religious minority fearing for their future—very small communities of Sikhs, Hindus, and Shia Muslims are endangered by the Taliban’s takeover as well. Notably, only one sole Jew remains in Afghanistan—even though the Taliban calls him an “infidel,” he’s choosing to stay to look after the country’s only synagogue. 

What’s Next?

The Taliban has tried to calm international outrage by promising a blanket amnesty. But is today’s Taliban really all that different? They have the same oppressive ideological beliefs, and new images of wounded women and bloodied children outside of the Kabul airport demonstrates that the Taliban of the present is just as bad as it always was.

One desperate Catholic family in Afghanistan is pleading to the pope for help. The family said “the Taliban are going door to door” asking if any Christians live there or if any Christians are known to be in the community.

New technology that wasn’t available under the Taliban’s previous rule also poses new risks to Afghans. According to one report by a Christian media group that broadcasts into the Middle East, Taliban fighters are demanding to see people’s phones, looking for Bible apps.

It won’t be worse in the level of persecution, but I think it will be worse in terms of the numbers because there are more Christians in Afghanistan than there were 20 years ago,” said Todd Nettleton from Voice of the Martyrs. “We know there are followers of Jesus Christ in every single province of Afghanistan.”

Barnabite Fr. Giovanni Scalese, who served at the country’s lone Catholic mission, pleaded in an interview with Vatican Radio earlier this month, “Pray… pray, pray, pray, for Afghanistan!” May we all answer this call.

5 Ways to Pray for the People of Afghanistan

by Arielle Del Turco

August 17, 2021

The scenes coming out of Afghanistan are horrific. People are so desperate to flee that they would cling to the exteriors of airplanes as they are taking off, with some tragically falling to their deaths. A young woman in tears dreading the Taliban rule says, “No one cares about us. We’ll die slowly in history.”

Being confronted with such tragedies ought to drive us to our knees in prayer. Faced with the worst-case scenario, the people of Afghanistan need a miracle. 

Here are several ways we can pray for Afghanistan.

1. Pray that God would protect Afghan Christians and give them wisdom as they decide what to do.

Even more than before, Afghan Christians are about to be under immense pressure. Joshua Youssef, president of Help the Persecuted, outlined three main possible outcomes. First, some Afghan Christians may succumb to the pressure and return to the Muslim background many of them converted from. Second, Afghan Christians could be forced to pay some sort of penalty. “Some people call it a tax, but it’s really a penalty to remain a Christian, a dhimmi, under Islamic rule,” Youssef says. Third, it is possible that Afghan Christians will be hunted down and killed by Taliban fighters. Youssef says, “that’s the concern that a lot of people have… that there will be violence.”

WORLD Magazine reporter Mindy Belz stated that she was aware of at least one letter that an Afghan Christian received from the Taliban, stating, “We know where you are, and we know what you’re doing.”

Such a troubling future for Afghan believers is difficult to fathom. Please pray that Christians would be strengthened in their faith to withstand persecution. Pray that God would meet their practical and physical needs. Pray that they would remain hidden from the Taliban.

2. Pray for the safety and preservation of women and girls in Afghanistan.

The Taliban is notorious for its oppression of women and girls. Fortunately, many young women in Afghanistan today grew up without the abuses of Taliban fighters and life under strict Sharia law. Yet, that time has come to an end. The Taliban has returned, and Afghan women and girls are rightfully scared.

It was not all that long ago that Malala Yousafzai, now a famous human rights advocate, survived an assassination attempt at the hands of the Taliban in Pakistan. In 2012, Taliban fighters tried to kill 15-year-old Malala for asserting her right to simply go to school. Malala wrote this week in a New York Times op-ed: “Afghan girls and young women are once again where I have been—in despair over the thought that they might never be allowed to see a classroom or hold a book again.”

Now, the Taliban is trying to claim that Afghan women will “be happy to be living within our framework of Sharia.” But years of repression and violence have proven the Taliban to be far from trustworthy. Under the Taliban’s previous control of Afghanistan, women and girls were prevented from being educated, leaving the house without a male guardian, and working outside the home (with a few exceptions).

Pray that women and girls in Afghanistan would be protected and kept safe. Pray that they would find hope for the future and be allowed opportunities to grow and thrive. Pray that this new regime would be more open than the last time the Taliban was in power.

3. Pray that the Taliban would cease their violence and repression and that evil plans would be thwarted.

Jesus instructed His followers to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43). Pray that the Taliban would turn from their evil ways and be restrained from committing acts of terror and instituting an oppressive regime. Pray that God would radically change their hearts the way He changed the heart of the apostle Paul (Acts 26).

4. Pray that world leaders would have the courage and understanding to aid the victims of this humanitarian crisis and make a positive difference.

The decision to swiftly withdraw troops without a sufficient contingency plan has unleashed an immense humanitarian disaster. American leaders, and those of other Western countries, should be developing solutions to help.

Pray that world leaders can identify practical and meaningful ways to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people. Pray that the United States would find a way to swiftly facilitate visas for those who worked for the American military and may now face repercussions from the Taliban.

Thousands of U.S. citizens remain trapped in Afghanistan without a way to get out. Pray that American leaders would quickly find a solution to allow them to return home safely.

5. Pray for the future of Afghanistan.

As precious persons made in the image of God, the people of Afghanistan deserve so much better than the cultural and political turmoil they are currently experiencing. Many are already mourning the loss of their dreams.

Pray that the people of Afghanistan would continue to have hope for the future. Pray that a better future would quickly be realized for them. Pray that they would one day have a strong, stable, and free representative government.

***

Watching current events unfold in Afghanistan is deeply saddening. Yet, we are not without hope, and neither are the people of Afghanistan. 

“They Need a Miracle”: Pray for the People of Afghanistan

by Arielle Del Turco

August 16, 2021

It is difficult to ignore the tragedy currently unfolding in Afghanistan. Following President Biden’s decision to fully withdraw U.S. troops, Taliban fighters have taken over the capital, causing the president to flee. Civilians not wanting to live under Taliban rule rushed to the airport in Kabul, desperate to make it onto one of the last planes leaving the country.

It’s a disastrous end to the U.S. military’s 20 years in Afghanistan. And for Christians in that country, the situation has gone from bad to worse.

Most Afghan Christians are converts from a Muslim background. Culturally, it remains very shameful to leave the Muslim faith. Family and community members are harsh toward Christian converts, making it dangerous to follow Jesus. Christians in Taliban-controlled regions face added pressure to remain entirely unnoticed.

Thus, persecution has pushed the estimated few thousand Afghan Christians to worship in secret. The U.S. State Department has reported that no church buildings remain in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, a house church leader from Afghanistan told International Christian Concern (ICC) that Christians would likely try to flee rather than live under Taliban rule. The Taliban has been known to take the names of everyone who attends mosque and who attends daily prayers. Strict adherence to Islamic practices, such as growing a beard, is compulsory. This leaves Christians highly vulnerable. For those who are discovered, the consequences are dire. Even before the Taliban has taken over certain areas, militants sent death threats to families they knew to be Christian.

The Afghan Christian told ICC that the terrorists intend to spread fear among Christians. Even for Christians who are not killed, “definitely they will lose their children, definitely the girls will be forced to marry Taliban soldiers.” The future surely looks bleak for Christian parents in Afghanistan faced with life under Taliban rule.

WORLD Magazine reporter Mindy Belz stated on Twitter that she was in touch with a contact who works with house churches in Afghanistan. They reported that house church leaders “received letters last night from the Taliban warning them that they know where they are and what they are doing. The leaders say they aren’t going anywhere.” Christians will face increased pressure under Taliban rule, as will all people in Afghanistan.

Under the Taliban, religious freedom—among many other freedoms—is nonexistent.

Many Afghan women particularly dread the Taliban and the strict Sharia law it enforces. When the Taliban previously had control of Afghanistan, girls were not allowed to be educated. Women needed a male guardian to leave the home. And women were prevented from working outside of the home.

Now that the Taliban is taking over so quickly, things are changing almost overnight for the people of Afghanistan.

One woman from Kabul anonymously wrote in The Guardian last week, “I did not expect that we would be deprived of all our basic rights again and travel back to 20 years ago. That after 20 years of fighting for our rights and freedom, we should be hunting for burqas and hiding our identity.” The Taliban’s rise to power is a major step backward for Afghanistan, one that will have countless consequences.

David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, said, “The best way to help is to pray urgently for the protection of Christians and other religious minorities in Afghanistan. They need a miracle.”

As times become even more trying for the Afghan people, please keep them in your prayers. Pray for the preservation of human life, protection for Christians, safety for women and girls, wisdom for world leaders to respond to the crisis, and hope for the people of Afghanistan. 

IRF 101: Ongoing Terror Against Christians in Nigeria

by Arielle Del Turco , Tyler Watt

August 16, 2021

This blog is part of an International Religious Freedom 101 series providing an overview of religious freedom challenges in countries around the world. Read our previous installments on TurkeyPakistanSri LankaVietnam, and Uzbekistan.

Varied Threats to Religious Freedom

Leah Sharibu was 14 years old when she and more than 100 other students from Dapchi Girls’ Science and Technical College were abducted by Boko Haram extremists. After months of captivity, all the surviving girls were freed except for Sharibu. The reason why she was kept captive was clear: she had refused to convert to Islam from Christianity. Three years later, she remains a captive Christian, refusing to convert and risking death each and every day at the hands of Islamist terrorists.

Nigeria is one of the fastest-growing nations in the world in terms of population and GDP. However, its distinction as a regional powerhouse is darkened by the brutal reality that exists for the millions of Christians living as minorities in the country. An openness to Sharia law—which permeates the judicial systems in several of Nigeria’s states—and the frequent threat of Islamist terror attacks and kidnappings make the country an especially threatening environment for Christians.

Bring Back Our Girls: The Rise and Fall of International Attention

Nigerian Christians have been targeted and murdered for their faith. But in recent years, terrorism and brutality in the form of kidnapping and sexual violence caused the eyes of the world to focus on Nigeria to an extent they hadn’t before. In April 2014, 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, in the northeast part of the country. These girls were forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men, primarily Boko Haram militants. To this day, more than 100 of the Chibok girls have not been freed.

Joy Bishara was one of the Chibok girls. She was one of the lucky ones who escaped captivity soon after capture, risking her life by jumping off the truck she was abducted in and running for safety until her bleeding feet couldn’t run anymore. Knowing the fate she might have faced at the hands of the terrorists, she chose the possibility of death over a life of being battered and abused in captivity. Bishara recently told her story at the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C.

Increasing Violence

The news of the schoolgirl kidnappings was much of the world’s first exposure to the grim reality facing persecuted Christians in Nigeria. Yet, this crucial moment was too briefly part of the international consciousness, and major steps still need to be taken to address the ongoing crisis. Given the world’s fading attention and general inaction, it comes as no surprise that brazen militants have continued their acts of terror in recent days. More than 140 schoolchildren were kidnapped in July 2021 from their school in Kaduna state, representing a share of the more than 1,000 kidnappings that have occurred in the nation since December 2020. Parents are scared to send their children to school, fearing for their safety. This has set back education for young boys and girls alike.

The kidnappings take place amid the backdrop of larger violence against Christians from Jihadi terrorists and Fulani militants. By one estimate, 3,462 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first half of this year. The State Department last year officially labeled Nigeria a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) on religious freedom. This is obviously a well-deserved title—more Christians are killed due to their faith in Nigeria than in any other country. Unfortunately, current Nigerian leaders have shown little concern for this unfolding crisis. Secretary of State Blinken should focus his efforts on keeping pressure on Nigerian leaders to protect its own people from rampant attacks.

An Uncertain Future

The violence in Nigeria that captivated the public eye in 2014 has not ceased, nor should the attention we pay to this key part of the world. No one should live in fear of attack because of their religious identity. Yet, in Nigeria, millions live with this fear every day. The U.S. State Department should make better use of their diplomatic tools to promote basic human rights for suffering Nigerians.

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