Half of the world's inhabitants lives in hotspots of persecution

Half of the world's inhabitants lives in hotspots of persecution

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FILE PHOTO: Workers walk past the perimeter fence of a center officially known as a Vocational Skills Training Center in Dabancheng, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China, on September 4, 2018.(Reuters / Thomas Peter / file photo)

Almost four billion people live in countries where the most serious violations of religious freedom occur, a new report warns.

The Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) report on Religious Freedom in the World 2021 lists 26 countries in the heaviest category, making up just over half (51%) of the world's population.

Twelve of these countries are in Africa, including Nigeria, where long-running conflicts over natural resources and ethnic divisions have been exacerbated by climate change, "growing" poverty and attacks by armed criminal gangs.

"Regardless, communities and faith groups have largely coexisted in relative peace. However, over the past decade, violence has erupted with unimaginable ferocity across the region," warns ACN.

Other countries on the "red" list are China and Myanmar, where there has been international outcry over possible genocides against the Rohingya and Uyghurs.

Worldwide religious freedom is violated in almost a third (31.6%) of the countries of the world, whereby the severity has increased "significantly" in the last year.

Large jihadist networks such as the so-called Islamic State and Al-Qaida, which spread across the equator and want to be "transcontinental" caliphates, are particularly worrying.

"A crescent of jihadist violence stretches from Mali to Mozambique in sub-Saharan Africa, the Comoros in the Indian Ocean and the Philippines in the South China Sea," ACN said.

At the same time, a "cyber caliphate" is expanding worldwide, and extremist groups are attracting new recruits from the West online.

"Islamist terrorists use sophisticated digital technologies to recruit, radicalize and attack. While counter-terrorism units have not been able to neutralize online communications with terrorists, they have been able to thwart attacks in several Western countries," it says in the report.

They are not the only ones using digital technologies as countries like China are increasingly turning to AI-enhanced surveillance to monitor the movements of Christians.

Over the past year, a new form of persecution has emerged, blaming religious minorities for the pandemic in China, Niger, Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan. Christians have also been excluded from food distribution and medical aid.

Religious nationalism has experienced a "boom," the report continues. Authoritarian governments would become more repressive and would reduce religious minorities to "the status of de facto second-class citizens".

The report also warns of sexual violence against women and girls from religious minorities in a growing number of countries.

"The increasing number of these violations, often with impunity, raises concerns that they are part of a fundamentalist strategy to hasten the long-term disappearance of certain religious groups," ACN said.

Another emerging form of persecution is what ACN calls "polite persecution," in which, relying on Pope Francis, the rise of new "rights" or cultural norms places religions in or out of the silent obscurity of the individual the closed areas of banned churches, synagogues or mosques. "

"These new, legally enshrined cultural norms mean that an individual's right to freedom of conscience and religion comes into profound conflict with the legal obligation to comply with these laws," the report said.

Elsewhere, the report raises concerns that the disappearance of religious education in Western schools will undermine efforts to combat radicalism.

"The West has thrown off tools that reduce radicalization," it says.

"Although governments recognize that teaching world religions in schools reduces radicalization and increases interfaith understanding among young people, more and more countries have stopped teaching religion."

Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, President of ACN International, commented on the findings: "Regrettably, despite the – albeit important – UN initiatives and the appointment of religious freedom ambassadors, the international community's response to violence based on religion and Dated religious persecution in general can be classified as too little, too late. "

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