Religious Oppression on the March Worldwide

Regimes everywhere are seeking scapegoats … and finding them.

Human rights are under siege in many nations. Three of the world’s most important countries, China, Russia, and India, are moving backward on political freedom, though the last at least still holds free elections. All three also are increasingly violating religious liberty. And they are not alone. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recently released its latest report, which concluded that religious repression is rampant.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem. Religious minorities remain convenient scapegoats, which was sadly evident in 2020. USCIRF observed that its “monitoring revealed that in some countries, already marginalized religious minorities faced official and/or societal stigmatization, harassment, and discrimination for allegedly causing or spreading the virus.” Moreover, those imprisoned for their religious beliefs were vulnerable to increased health risks due to the disease’s spread in overcrowded prisons.

The Commission’s report targets the world’s worst religious persecutors. It rates the most problematic states as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs), places others on its Special Watch List, and cites egregious non-state actors as Entities of Particular Concern. Not all the news was bad — Sudan moved away from terrible authoritarian Islamist rule and even Eritrea, long known as the North Korea of Africa, released some believers imprisoned for their faith.

A Baker’s Dozen plus one ended up as CPCs. Ten were already on the State Department’s list: Malaysia, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. USCIRF recommended adding another four: India, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.

This group well reflects the principal causes of religious repression, being dominated by majority Islamic nations and communist or former communist states. The list also includes a majority Buddhist and a majority Hindu nation, as well as Eritrea, a non-communist totalitarian regime of extraordinary ferocity.