Religious freedom is declining

62% of the world’s population, approximately 4.9 billion people, live in countries where religious freedom is violated. In one in three, in 61 of the 196 states on the planet, this basic human right does not exist, and in 47, discrimination or persecution based on religion is exacerbated. This is some of the data provided by the latest report Religious freedom in the world 2023prepared by the NGO Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) which at the same time condemns the “appalling silence of the international community” in the face of non-compliance with this right.

The study, which covers the period from January 2020 to December 2022, reflects that religious freedom in the world is “dying”. Since 2021, people have been killed or kidnapped in 40 countries because of their religion; In 36 countries, perpetrators are rarely prosecuted by the judicial system, and in 34 countries, places of worship or religious property have been attacked or damaged. In a quarter of the states analyzed, the situation has worsened in the past two years.

Among the causes are authoritarian governments, Islamic extremism, and ethnic and religious nationalism

“Those who sought the welfare of human rights are now looking the other way,” denounced the report’s editor-in-chief, Marcela Szymanski, who gave Nicaragua as an example, where the Catholic Church has suffered harassment and persecution from the government of Daniel Ortega as a result of church leaders denouncing the violation of human rights, including religious freedom.

“The expulsion of the Apostolic Nuncio and religious communities, the forced exile of monks and priests was the first major blow dealt by Nicaragua, but it had tormented the Church for many years,” explains the reporter responsible. One visible face of this conflict is the Bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, who has been persecuted by the Sandinista police and is serving a 26-year sentence for “destabilizing activities and provocation”. The study estimates that 22% of the world’s Christians live in countries where religious freedom is not respected.

Africa continues to be the continent where there is the greatest persecution of the faith. The region most affected by the rapid expansion of Islamic attacks is the Sahel region, which includes countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad. Nearly 8,000 deaths in this region in 2022, more than 40% of the victims on the continent, are due to Islamic extremism. The report details that Christians are in the spotlight and gives an example of northern Nigeria, where Islam predominates. The study details that “Christian women are kidnapped and forced to marry Muslim men, and others are forced to wear veils and excluded from government positions…”.

On the Asian continent, the report highlights the case of India, in which Hinduism is the majority religion, and “a very dangerous and harmful ethno-religious nationalism is being imposed against minorities.” Anti-conversion laws have been or will be passed in twelve states with penalties of up to ten years in prison. On the other hand, the study in Pakistan indicates that minorities suffer from blasphemy laws and Christian and Hindu women and girls are kidnapped to force them into marriage and limit the growth of their communities.

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