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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New Annual Report Documents Extensive Persecution in 33 Nations
International Christian Concern
On Thursday, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2015 annual report. The report, compiled from thousands of hours of interviews with government officials, victims, and non-governmental organizations, lists 17 countries as Tier 1 violators of religious freedom for "engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom." The report also recommends that these countries either remain on or be added to the State Department's "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC) list. Placement on the CPC list theoretically opens up the possibility of U.S. imposed sanctions against the designated country as well as a variety of other diplomatic tools to promote religious freedom.
Across the board, International Christian Concern (ICC) staff strongly agreed with the conclusions of the report which highlight the global scope of the abuse of religious freedoms.
William Stark, ICC's Regional Manager for South Asia, said, "I applaud USCIRF for taking notice of the continued deterioration of religious freedom in the South Asia region. Both Pakistan and India have seen significant increases in religious freedom violations, especially against the Christian minority in each country."
"In Pakistan, abuses against the Christian minority continue to be widespread and severe. Forced conversions, attacks on Christian places of worship, repressive blasphemy laws, and widespread discrimination include just a few of the abuses the Christian minority faces. In India, there has been a dramatic escalation in abuses against the Christian minority since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP-led government took power almost one year ago. Over the past year, there have been increased attacks on Christians and their places of worship by Hindu radicals, as well as Hindu nationalist leaders connected to the ruling government actively advocating for increased attacks. These abuses against India's Christian minority have happened out in the open, yet no concrete action has been taken by the Modi government to protect Christians. I appreciate USCIRF's reporting on this matter and hope there will be continued investigation into these violations by both USCIRF and the U.S. State Department."
ICC's Regional Manager for Africa, Troy Augustine, said, "International Christian Concern applauds USCIRF's addition of Nigeria and the Central African Republic (CAR) as Countries of Particular Concern in their 2015 report. Muslim persecution of Christians in northern and middle-belt Nigeria by Boko Haram and Islamist Fulani herders contributes to making these regions some of the most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian. We are also alarmed by the amount of sectarian violence happening in CAR. ICC condemns all violence against anyone targeted because of their faith."
Christopher Warner, ICC's Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said, "The USCIRF report confirms what we have seen in the ongoing persecution of Christians in several Asian countries. We note specific recent growth in the persecution seen in China with crackdowns on Christian communities across the country, destroying churches and imprisoning pastors. We have continued concern about problems experienced by believers in the several other Asian nations mentioned in the report, including Vietnam whose CPC designation was removed by the State Department in 2006, but certainly warrants once again being designated due to continuing issues."
Middle East and North Africa:
Todd Daniels, ICC's Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "This report highlights once again the incredible violations of basic human rights that happen across the Middle East simply on the basis of one's religious beliefs or identity. In Saudi Arabia, where no non-Muslim religious buildings are allowed, and Iran, where dozens of Christian converts remain behind bars, the United States must press religious freedoms in their dealings with these officials. In Egypt, the newly installed government has shown rhetoric in favor of greater religious freedoms while, in practice, imprisonment on charges of blasphemy and assaults on churches continue. The CPC designation has the opportunity to provide political will necessary to implement some of the necessary reforms. The countries of Iraq and Syria highlight one of the needs for implementation of USCIRF's recommendation to expand the IRFA tools to apply to non-state actors and individuals who are guilty of violations for religious freedom. In both countries, ISIS (ISIL) and other jihadist groups have particularly targeted Christians and other religious minorities. There is a clear religious dimension to these conflicts and the United States should take the opportunities to utilize all diplomatic tools available to protect this most fundamental freedom from further violation."
ICC's Advocacy Director, Isaac Six, said, "For more than two centuries the world has looked to the United States as a bastion of freedom. Americans have always shared the very deep conviction that every individual has the inherent right to believe or not believe in whatever faith he or she chooses. What so many Americans do not realize, however, is just how few around the world have this simple right, and how many millions are actively persecuted because of what they choose to believe or not believe. Our hope is that this report, so carefully researched and painstakingly compiled, opens the door for a serious discussion about our role in the world, and what we should be doing to encourage governments everywhere to give this simple right to their citizens."
For interviews, contact Isaac Six, ICC Advocacy Director at Advocacy@persecution.org
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