Most of world’s population face religious restrictions

The United States State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom, covering nearly 200 nations, says 56 countries, encompassing a significant majority of the world’s population, have high or severe restrictions on religious freedom.

Releasing the report, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: “Religious freedom is a human right; in fact, it goes to the heart of what it means to be human – to think freely, to follow our conscience, to change our beliefs if our hearts and minds lead us to do so, to express those beliefs in public and in private. This freedom is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It’s also part of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  Our country’s commitment to defending freedom of religion and belief goes back centuries.  It continues today.”

In his remarks, Blinken highlighted persecution in Iran, which continues to intimidate, harass, and arrest members of minority faith groups, including Baha’i, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sunni and Sufi Muslims.

He also noted the situation in Myanmar, Russia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, China and international anti-Semitism.

See Assist’s full report here:

Assist News Service

Pakistani Christian couple freed

Shaguftah Kausar, the Pakistani woman who replaced Christian Asia Bibi in her prison cell on death row, a mother of 4, has finally been acquitted from the death penalty by Lahore High court. Kausar, with her disabled husband Shafqat Emmanuel, was arrested for blasphemy in 2013 and sentenced to death in 2014. Despite both being illiterate, the Catholic couple, surnamed Masih*, were convicted of sending blasphemous texts – in English – to Islamic clerics.

The couple appealed against their death penalty in 2016, but the appeal was continuously delayed – leaving them languishing in jail for years – because blasphemy cases are so controversial and sensitive in Pakistan.

When the then-EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figel, visited Pakistan to discuss Asia Bibi’s case in December 2017, he told officials that the renewal of their export privileges to Europe depended on Asia Bibi’s release. It was only after her acquittal in October 2018 (and final freedom in spring 2019), that her lawyer Saif ul Malook – in the glare of international media attention – said his next case would be that of Shaguftah. This was the first time many people heard of the married couple’s separate cases.

After Figel’s visit, an inter-faith advisory council was started to look at the misuse of the blasphemy law – often to ‘grab’ disputed land or to settle personal grudges, business rivalries and so on.

In April 2021, the European Parliament adopted a joint motion for a resolution calling for a review of the GSP+ trade status granted to Pakistan, and seeking more comprehensive approaches to address such abuses of the law. The motion specifically referred to this couple’s case.

This apparent ‘planting’ of fake texts or images on the mobile phones of sometimes-illiterate Pakistani Christians has been reported by World Watch Monitor over recent years.

Read the full report here:

World Watch Monitor

Fulani abduct eight Christians

Eight Christians were abducted by armed men who attacked their church bus as it travelled along Akure-Ilesa Road in Ondo State, Nigeria. The bandits launched their attack against the Christ Apostolic Church bus at around 6pm local time, forcing the victims to march into the forest.

Police and soldiers attending the incident were unable to locate the Christians or their abductors.

One witness described how “the bandits suddenly ran out of the forests and started shooting at us”, adding, “The attackers were Fulani.”

Fulani Islamist militants are often involved in the abduction or murder of Christians in Nigeria. This incident is at least the third of its kind to take place in Nigeria in the past two months. In March eight Christians were abducted from a church minibus in Kaduna State; they were subsequently released.

Barnabas Fund

Four Christians killed in Myanmar

Four people were killed and more than eight injured in an attack on a church in Loikaw, Kayah State, Myanmar, on Sunday, May 23. The Myanmar Army launched artillery and used small arms in their offensive against the church.

The building was full of civilians, mainly women and children, taking shelter from ongoing fighting between the army and resistance groups.

“They were not armed,” read a statement from church leaders in Myanmar, “they were inside the church to protect their families. Every heart in this country weeps for the death of the innocent people.”

The incident comes amid ongoing tensions in Buddhist-majority Myanmar since the army seized power in a military coup on February 1. The army has for many years persecuted the Christian-majority Chin, Kachin, and Karen ethnic groups as well as the Muslim-majority Rohingya.

Barnabas Fund