WASHINGTON — The U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor released its annual International Religious Freedom Report on Tuesday, detailing the status of 199 countries and outlining particularly egregious examples of persecution.
“Almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during a press conference announcing the report. “Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root.”
In addition to noting that the barbaric Islamic group ISIS continues to be a major threat to religious freedom, advising that it is responsible for committing crimes against humanity, Tillerson zeroed in on general concerns in Iran, Turkey, Bahrain, China, Pakistan and Sudan as outlined in the report.
He noted that last year, Iran executed 20 people, including for the charge of “waging war against God.”
“Christians, particularly evangelicals and converts from Islam, continued to experience disproportionate levels of arrests and detention, and high levels of harassment and surveillance, according to reports from exiled Christians,” the report further outlines. “Numerous Christians remained imprisoned at year’s end on charges related to their religious practices.”
“Prison authorities reportedly continued to withhold medical care from prisoners, including some Christians, according to human rights groups. According to human rights NGOs, the government also continued to enforce the prohibition on proselytizing,” it states.
In China, the report notes, “[t]here continued to be reports that the government physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices, including members of unregistered Christian churches (also known as ‘house churches’).”
It relays that a pastor and his wife were buried alive as the government demolished their unregistered church, and the wife died of suffocation as she was unable to dig herself out. Chinese officials also continued in a campaign to remove crosses from church buildings, which resulted in resistance from many congregations.
In Sudan, Christians continue to be persecuted by the Muslim majority, which has closed churches and Christian schools, denied permits to build new churches and banned non-Islamic missionaries from its borders.
“In February, a judge ordered Isheikh Mohamed Ali Kadod to be assessed for mental illness following his conversion from Islam to Christianity,” the report notes. “In August, the minister of guidance and endowments announced in a press conference the ministry would begin to prevent the delivery of sermons and homilies in markets and public places.”
A number of pastors were likewise charged with espionage or “warring against the government,” and an entire family was arrested and charged with apostasy after being turned in to authorities by a Quranic school.
“We cannot ignore these conditions,” Tillerson said. “The Trump administration has committed to addressing these conditions in part by advancing international religious freedom around the world. The State Department will continue to advocate on behalf of those seeking to live their lives according to their faith.”