USA (MNN) — The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual International Religious Freedom (IRF) report on August 12, covering religious freedom violations in nearly 200 countries in 2015.
Such violations include instances where thousands of people were imprisoned for their beliefs. In fact, according to the report, about three-quarters of the world’s population resides in areas with religious freedom restrictions.
The report has two main functions. One, it addresses the threats blasphemy laws have to religious freedom. And two, it highlights state-sponsored persecution. For a detailed list on these countries included in the release, click here!
But, it’s a report naming the elephant in the room — persecution. David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, says, “Since Ambassador David Saperstein, who’s the Ambassador at large for religious freedom… I think we’ve begun to see more focus on these kinds of issues within the Obama Administration.”
However, though this is only a report, it is significantly important. Based on the list, the State Department designates countries with ongoing systematic religious freedom violations as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs).
Current CPCs include: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The USCIRF also recommends designating the following countries as CPCs: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Vietnam.
Spot-On, But Wrong
Curry says the recently released report is spot-on, but it fails to do more than call little attention to the issue at hand.
“When you start to look at the list, you realize some of these countries are countries we do a lot of business with. That may be one reason why they [State Department] downplay the release of the information, even though it’s technically accurate,” Curry explains.
“And secondly, it might be one of the reasons why the report really lacks teeth.”
But why is the CPC list so important? Because if listed, the U.S. can take actions against the countries and make them stand accountable for their violations against religious freedom.
The downfall — Curry says the government issues waivers for some of these countries, leaving them unaccountable for their acts against humanity. It’s happened before, and by doing so, it essentially makes the CPC list useless and invalid.
“Nothing is going to change from this report. Unfortunately, we have to recognize that this administration has been very slow to identify the problem,” Curry shares.
“Now they’re at least identifying the problem, [yet] they’re clearly not going to take action based upon it. But, I think we have to take some silver lining in that the State Department has identified [it], is calling persecution what it is.”
The next steps in the fight for religious freedom are up to the next administration.
After all, religious freedom isn’t an issue for only Christians, though they’re the largest religious group persecuted in the world, it’s an issue for all facing persecution for their beliefs.
“It’s a human rights issue. When you don’t have the freedom to choose for yourself, freedom of conscience…if you don’t have that fundamental right, how free are you. The answer is, not very free at all,” Curry says.
A report by Crux states that nearly one-fourth of all countries have anti-blasphemy laws. This fact has been marked as a major concern for religious freedom. These laws are often abused by governments and citizens to persecute individuals not of the majority state’s religion, e.g. Asia Bibi.
In Pakistan, home and prison to Asia Bibi, there are no laws or punishments for or against false blasphemy accusations. Two women could be angry and one lie, claiming blasphemy on the other, and it’s the age old game of “her word against mine.” The disciplinary lack for such situations presents potentially deadly situations for Christians, and all other minority religions in Pakistan.
Help End Religious Freedom Violations
This report may not do more than acknowledge that religious freedoms are being violated in hundreds of countries, but it provides an opportunity for the Christian community to act.
“Part of what we can do to contribute to the larger civil society is to say, ‘We’re going to live out our faith, peacefully, in accordance with civil law. But we’re going to be Christians, in the true sense of the word, showing ourselves to be as much we can, like Jesus, living His values,” Curry explains.
This is especially important for those facing persecution. Being examples of Christ is possibly the only way for them to evangelize.
But for those living free, here are even more ways to help fight religious freedom violations.
Free to Help
Donate: Christians across the world need financial support, like refugees evangelizing in their home countries. Help support brothers and sisters in Christ to live out the Gospel.
Pray: If there’s anyone who loves the persecuted, it’s God, and He does not forsake His people. Pray for God’s intervention in these countries, for His protection over Christians facing persecution, and pray for the Gospel to prevail, even when it seems it can’t.
Learn more about Christian persecution and Open Doors’ World Watch List (WWL). The WWL is a ranking of the top 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith.