“By any measure, religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault since the release of our commission’s last Annual Report in 2015,” says the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “From the plight of new and longstanding prisoners of conscience, to the dramatic rise in the numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, to the continued acts of bigotry against Jews and Muslims in Europe, and to the other abuses detailed in this report, there was no shortage of attendant suffering worldwide.”
In the USIRF’s 2016 report, which the State Department released earlier on Monday, the commission notes that the incarceration of prisoners of conscience “remains astonishingly widespread, occurring in country after country, and underscores the impact of the laws and policies that led to their imprisonment.”
Here are five facts from the report about the persecution of Christians:
1. In China, Christian communities have “borne a significant brunt of the oppression, with numerous churches bulldozed and crosses torn down. Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife, Xing Wenxiang, were sentenced in Zhejiang Province in February 2016 to 14 and 12 years in prison, respectively, for leading a Christian congregation that was opposing a government campaign to remove crosses atop churches.
2. In Sudan, the government stiffened penalties for both apostasy and blasphemy. The regime prosecutes Christian pastors on trumped-up charges and marginalizes the country’s minority Christian community. It imposes a restrictive interpretation of Shari’ah law and applies corresponding hudood punishments (such as whipping, amputation, and stoning to death) on Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
3. Boko Haram continues to attack with impunity both Christians and many Muslims. From bombings at churches and mosques to mass kidnappings of children from schools, Boko Haram has cut a wide path of terror across vast swaths of Nigeria and in neighboring countries, leaving thousands killed and millions displaced
4. The situation is “particularly grave” for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians in Eritrea. The government requires all physically- and mentally-capable people between the ages of 18 and 70 to perform a full-time, indefinite, and poorly-paid national service obligation, which includes military, development, or civil service components. There are no exemptions for conscientious objections and individuals completing their national service obligation in the military are prohibited from practicing their religion. Failure to participate in the national service results in being detained, sentenced to hard labor, abused, and having one’s legal documents confiscated.
5. The report notes numerous incidents over the past year of Iranian authorities raiding church services, threatening church members, and arresting and imprisoning worshipers and church leaders, particularly converts to Evangelical forms of Christianity. Since 2010, authorities “arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 550 Christians throughout the country.” As of February 2016, approximately 90 Christians were either in prison, detained, or awaiting trial because of their religious beliefs and activities.