USCIRF: Unprecedented persecution against Christians

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Crucifixion in Nineveh, Iraq. | TWITTER

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) -- The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued its annual report highlighting abuses of religious liberty in 33 countries and claiming the level of persecution against Christians in some countries has reached an all-time high.

"Not a day goes by without at least one country from these lists appearing on the front page of a major newspaper," Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the USCIRF wrote in the report. "Humanitarian crises fueled by waves of terror, intimidation and violence have engulfed an alarming number of countries over the past year.

"With serious religious freedom violations occurring all around the world, these horrors speak volumes about how and why religious freedom and the protection of the rights of vulnerable religious communities matter. All nations should care about abuses beyond their borders not only for humanitarian reasons, but because what goes on in other nations rarely remains there," Swett wrote.

The report asks the U.S. State Department to continue pressing Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for religious reform. All of the countries are recognized by the State Department as "countries of particular concern," or CPCs.

The Commission also recommends eight more nations receive the CPC designation this year. Those countries – including Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria – are recommended largely because of official government oppression and the growth of terror groups affiliated with the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram or other militant factions that frequently target Christians.

The USCIRF report claims the Islamic State has employed "especially egregious and large-scale abuses" of religious minorities in Iraq, especially against Yazidis and Christians. It also concludes the Iraqi government no longer has an effective means of combating the extremist group or protecting the religious rights of its citizens.

But the vice chair of the Commission dissented against the recommendation to give Iraq a CPC designation. James J. Zogby, author of Arab Voices and founder of the Arab American Institute, said the persecution in Iraq was caused by ISIS – a "non-state actor" – and by sectarian and tribal militias outside of the control of the central government.

Zogby, who also heads Zogby Research Services, instead placed blame for Iraq's religious woes on former President George W. Bush.

"It was hubris that led the Bush Administration to invade, occupy, and believe that it could restructure the governance of the country," Zogby wrote in the report. "The creation of the murderous sectarian militias took place on our watch in the middle of the last decade, as did the massive sectarian 'cleansing' operations that resulted in the dislocation of one-fifth of the country's population and the forced exile of two-thirds of Iraq's Christian community."

Persecution has also increased significantly in China, the Commission reported. The communist government there, which celebrated 65 years in power in 2014, "views ideologies that promote freedom of speech, civil society, genuine rule of law, and human rights as directly undermining its control." Uighur Muslims in western China are oppressed, but many times respond to government repression with violence.

Christians in China do not respond but are still persecuted.

"Although Christianity is state-sanctioned, the government continues to engage in severe violations of religious freedom against both registered and unregistered Catholics and Protestants. Some have characterized the new wave of persecution against Christians that swept through China in 2014 as the most egregious and persistent since the Cultural Revolution. Nevertheless, the number of religious followers, of Christianity in particular, is considered to be growing," the Commission said in its report.

The report, published April 30, is the 16th report issued since the Commission was founded by an act of Congress in 1998.

View entire document at