|Persecution Aid for the Suffering Church
Religious Freedom: A Right yet to Be Won
Again this year, the 2004 Report on Religious Freedom in the World denounces the grave violations against Christians. Here we present a map of the persecutions
by Camille Eid
The most fundamental of all rights, as the Pope defines religious freedom, still finds difficulty being accepted in many countries. This is the picture that emerges–notwithstanding a few improvements here and there–from the 2004 Report on Religious Freedom in the World, produced by the Italian section of Aid for the Suffering Church (ACS). The volume analyzes, country by country, for the sixth consecutive year, the violations that have occurred, be they physical persecutions or administrative and legislative abuses of power or gag orders.
As usual, Christians in particular pay the highest price, since they are the preferred targets in all the “religious areas.” In the home of Islam, where the situation of Christians is very critical, militant activism of some fundamentalist fringes is creating tensions even in those countries previously spared, such as Bangladesh, where last year numerous cases of violence against non-Islamic minorities occurred.
In the Hindu areas, a similar wave is treading upon the values of tolerance and respect that animated Ghandi’s spirituality in India. In many states under the strict control of the BJP party, the Christians are asking for greater measures of protection from the attacks of fundamentalists. In Nepal, repeated attacks of Maoist rebels are endangering the work of the Church. Three Catholic schools in mountain districts had to close last year, after continuous threats of destruction and violence.
In Buddhist areas, the situation of Christians in Myanmar is worsening (through restrictions of instruction, evangelization, and construction of sanctuaries) and in Bhutan, which outlawed both public worship and evangelization in the year 2000. In addition, in Cambodia, the growth of nationalism, closely connected to the state religion of Buddhism, has been causing problems recently for Christians, above all in rural areas. Last July 13th, about a hundred Buddhists attacked a church in the southeast part of the country during Sunday worship and destroyed the Cross, broke the windows, and threw out the Bibles. In Sri Lanka, finally, the growing political and religious tension expressed itself violently when some Buddhist monks incited the population against Christian organizations accused of undermining the religious and cultural identity of the nation.
The case of the Communist bloc is more problematic. In China, the new team in power since 2003 reconfirmed the Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, confirming the ambiguous religious policy of previous years. The underground communities are among the most targeted because they will not be pigeonholed into the official Church. In North Korea, the situation is wrapped in mystery because the country is totally impenetrable and isolated from the rest of the world. The little information that leaks out speaks above all of brutal persecutions and of strict government control, such that it is estimated that, since the establishment of the Communist regime in 1953, about 300,000 Christians have disappeared, including all the priests and sisters. In Laos (ranked third place in the world for violations of religious freedom, after North Korea and Saudi Arabia), the government has expressly declared its intention to eliminate Christians, considering Christianity a violation of national customs and “a foreign imperialist religion.”