Report shows rise in persecution, urges Congress to speak out

International (MNN) — The persecution of believers is nothing new, but a recent report shows a disturbing trend.

(Representative image courtesy of Open Doors USA)

The U.S. Commission on International and Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently released its annual report, which notes that religious liberty worldwide is crumbling in both the depth and breadth of violations. It also calls for Congress and the administration to advocate for religious freedom for all people across the world.

“It’s another lens with which to see who are the countries that are problematic, and where the government needs to use its significant power and influence to improve human rights,” says David Curry, President of Open Doors USA.

The Commission researches religious freedom issues worldwide, then issues an annual report that advises the State Department on which countries should be classified as “countries of particular concern” or CPCs. According to USCIRF, a CPC is “any country whose government engages in or tolerates particularly severe religious freedom violations that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”

For the first time, USCIRF named Russia to the list, classifying it as one of the world’s worst violators of religious liberty. Russia’s government often uses its “anti-extremism” law to strip people of religious freedom, most recently the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“In Russia, there’s been a restriction of religious freedom, a worsening of those conditions, banning certain sects,” Curry says. “People may not know that. Of course, people have a large concern about Russia anyway, but I think you can see some warning signs there that I think people need to take into account when they’re considering their businesses in Russia and so forth.”

USCIRF also identifies “entities of particular concern” or EPCs, which are non-state actors that inflict extreme persecution against religious groups and exercise political power outside the government’s control. This year, USCIRF recommended the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Taliban in Afghanistan and al-Shabaab in Somalia to be named EPCs.

“There are certain kinds of approaches needed certainly for non-state actors,” Curry says. “We can’t just pretend that it’s a bilateral situation now where you have a war with one country against another country. There are non-state actors involved. They’re in many ways the most significant because their ideologies are spreading across North Africa [and] down into southern parts of Africa; a giant band of persecution across that continent that’s growing.”

These ideologies are drastically affecting the makeup of Christianity throughout the Middle East and North Africa, as violence and natural disaster are forcing Christians to flee their homes.

Believers in Syria are running out of options.(Image shared on Open Doors’ Facebook page)

“In the northeast of Nigeria, you have the potential of a massive famine amongst Christians who remain in that area because they can’t get food aid because of these attacks,” Curry says. “They’re either forced to relocate or suffer through some really inhuman conditions here this summer.

“You have other areas which have totally been swept clean of Christians. You obviously had a larger amount of Christians in Iraq and Syria 10 years ago that are now moving to the north and into Europe and around the world. It’s changing the face of the Middle East. It’s changing the face of Africa.”

Curry says Christians need to start advocating for their persecuted brothers and sisters. He says governments often say they will help, but don’t always take action.

“It seems like every government is quick to let people know [and] religious leaders know they are going to protect religious liberties,” Curry says. However, “so seldom do they actually have the ability or the wherewithal to put teeth to these kinds of things.

“But I think it’s just as simple as some beginning steps of getting this sort of training and awareness into each of the State Departments…to train our State Department people around the world so they know what that looks like, to get high-level people involved talking about this, to consider religious liberty as a discussion point, and a trading point in our trade deals around the world — because we’re doing massive business with countries that are holding down people, that are enforcing people into a certain mindset or religion and not allowing people to choose their own faith.”

Curry also says it’s vital to pray for those under pressure or suffering for their faith. Click here to receive updates about Christian persecution around the world, and here for specific ways to pray.