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U.S. official: Christians may be facing worst persecution in millenia

2015-05-10

One of the topics Pope Francis discusses most often is the persecution of Christians in modern times. The Pope has said that this is one of the most dangerous eras in world history for some Christian groups.

POPE FRANCIS
March 4, 2014
"I tell you: today there are more martyrs than in the times of the Early Christians.”

And the Pope isn't exaggerating.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recently released a report that describes violations of religious freedom in more than 30 countries throughout the world. The chair of the Commission said that Christians are facing some of the worst persecution in the history of the religion.

DR. KATRINA LANTOS SWETT
Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
"Well, Pope Francis is correct. We are witnessing levels of persecution of ancient Christian communities of the Middle East at levels that are something that we have not seen, one could almost say, in millenia. It's very disturbing and disheartening.” 

Non-state actors like Boko Haram or ISIS threaten Christians in the most visible way. But governments can also harm certain religious groups. Blasphemy laws in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are an especially bad problem for believers and non-believers alike.

DR. KATRINA LANTOS SWETT
Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
"They continue to prosecute large numbers of people under blasphemy laws that are simply not sustainable under international standards of protection for religious freedom. They set up governments as arbiters of what are permissible beliefs and what aren't, what are permissible forms of expression and what are not.”

The report singled out the Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam for committing "particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”

But the information in the report wasn't all doom and gloom. Progress has been made toward peace and stability in some countries.

DR. KATRINA LANTOS SWETT
Chair, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
"I do want to point out a couple of positive developments. We have seen, literally in the last couple of weeks, the Nigerian military successfully rescuing hundreds of captive women from Boko Haram.”

She also pointed to Sri Lanka and Cyprus as places that have improved after recently struggling with violence and war, which often endangers religious freedom.

The bipartisan commission has released the annual report since 1998. In addition to describing the religious freedom violations, the lengthy report also offers specific recommendations and an assessment what the United States can to better promote religious freedom.


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