WASHINGTON — The annual International Religious Freedom Report released by the U.S. Department of State on Wednesday finds that in 2014, the greatest persecutors of Christians and other groups worldwide were Islamic terror groups like ISIS and Boko Haram, but also cites that local governments often failed to provide adequate protection to dissenters.
The report, which is in its 17th year of publication under Congressional mandate, analyzed nearly 200 countries worldwide, including Middle Eastern, Asian and African nations, finding that terror remains a significant threat in these locations.
“In Mosul, Iraq and nearby towns, shortly after the takeover of the area by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Christians [and others] who had been given the choice to convert, pay a ruinous tax, or die, gathered their families and what few possessions they could carry, and sought all possible means to escape,” the executive summary of the report reads.
“It has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people, conducted mass executions, and kidnapped, sold, enslaved, raped and/or forcibly converted thousands of women and children—all on the grounds that these people stand in opposition to ISIL’s religious dogma,” it continues.
In Africa, the Islamic group Boko Haram was found to have killed more people in 2014 than in the past five years.
“The group deliberately targeted Christians, as well as Muslims who spoke out against or opposed their radical ideology,” the outline states. “As West Africa’s most active terror group, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for scores of fatal attacks on churches and mosques, often killing worshipers during religious services or immediately afterward.”
But the Department of State also found that “[g]overnment failure, delay, and inadequacy in combating these groups often had severe consequences for people living under significant and dire restrictions on, and interference with, their exercise of freedom of religion. ”
And, in some cases, religious persecution came by means of the law, such as in Pakistan, where Christians and others faced imprisonment and death for violating its blasphemy statute. In the nation, “persons are subject to death for ‘defiling Prophet Muhammad,'” and may face “life imprisonment for ‘defiling, damaging, or desecrating the Quran,'” or “10 years’ imprisonment for ‘insulting another’s religious feelings.’”
Last year, Sawan Masih was sentenced to death for speaking against Islam in a conversation with a friend. The accusation resulted in an uproar, where “[a] mob of more than 3,000 persons burned some 100 Christian homes in Lahore’s Joseph Colony.”
The report also outlined a variety of religious rights violations in China, where many Christians face harassment and criminal proceedings for worshiping in secret or distributing gospel literature.
“Authorities in Liuzhou, Guangxi Province arrested and charged four individuals with ‘illegal business operations,’ reportedly for their compilation and distribution of a Christian textbook,” the report outlines. “In June, advocacy groups reported a house church in Guangdong Province received an eviction notice from its landlord, who stated he had been pressured by the government. The church was in the middle of a three-year lease.”
In Beijing, “[s]ecurity officials frequently interrupted outdoor services of the unregistered Shouwang Church in Beijing and detained people attending those services for several days without charge,” it continued, and “local authorities ordered the destruction of more than 230 Christian objects in Zhejiang Province throughout the year.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who called for the protection of religious diversity worldwide, said that he hopes the report helps to provide both information and motivation to readers.
“By issuing this report, we hope to give governments an added incentive to honor the rights and the dignity of their citizens,” he stated. “But the report also has the benefit of equipping interested observers with an arsenal of facts.”
“The repugnance of these acts is only multiplied when the perpetrators seek to justify themselves by pointing a finger at God and claiming somehow that God licensed these acts,” Kerry continued. “We are, and we will continue, to oppose these groups with far more than words of condemnation that are contained in this report.”