Persecution hotspots in 2012
There are no surprises in Release International’s list of predicted hotspots for persecution in 2012. If anything, the organisation fears the plight of Christians around the world may get worse.
The organisation has received reports from partners that Christians are coming under increasing suspicion in North Korea. Practising Christianity is banned in the closed-off communist country and anyone caught with a Bible faces torture, imprisonment and possibly death.
It is monitoring events closely following the death of dictator Kim Jong-il but there is little optimism that the change of leadership to Kim Jong-un will ease their plight.
In China, authorities are considering legalising the detention of people considered a threat to national security, a move that would put lawyers and Christian human rights campaigners at risk.
There are additional concerns that the change in leadership later in 2012 may prompt authorities to tighten their grip on Christians and potential dissidents.
Bob Fu, of partner organisation China Aid, said: “Religious freedom conditions are at their lowest point since 1982.”
In countries with large Muslim and Hindu populations, the prevalence of apostasy charges against believers is a “worrying trend”, the charity said.
In addition to Hindu and Muslim converts, accusations are being levelled against evangelists and other existing believers who speak about their faith.
Political rhetoric has turned increasingly against Christians in Iran, where the Christian faith is regarded as a threat to the Islamic revolution.
Christians have been arrested, beaten, imprisoned and killed for their faith there. Other forms of harassment include expelling Christians from jobs and universities, phone tapping and using relatives to spy on them.
Release’s partners warn that the persecution of Christians in Pakistan is “increasing day by day” as radical Islam continues to spread.
Two senior government ministers, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, were murdered by extremists after calling for reform of the notorious blasphemy laws.
Other areas of concern for the coming year include Nigeria, where dozens have been killed in Christmas Day church attacks. Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group claiming responsibility, wants to impose strict Sharia law on the country.
While India may be the world’s largest democracy and one of the fastest growing economies, there are signs of a “growing hostility” towards Christians and Christian witness, Release said.
Christians have been particularly alarmed by a recent call from the Hindu militant group Vishva Hindu Parishad to change the constitution to allow “anyone who converts Hindus to be beheaded”.
Anti-conversion laws are being interpreted to mean a ban on evangelism and some pastors have been accused of converting Hindus by force, Release said.
Others of concern include central Asian countries and Sri Lanka, where churches are being forced to register with the authorities.
Andy Dipper, chief executive of Release International, said: “Across the world, the number of Christians imprisoned for their faith looks set to increase in 2012.
“In the new year please make it a priority to pray for members of our Christian family who face persecution and offer your practical support. The economic climate may be getting harder in the UK, but we still have our freedom.
“And that includes freedom to pray, support and speak out for our brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith.”