The killing and persecution of Christians increased in the Middle East, Africa and Asia last year, with the Islamic State leading the campaign of attacks, the US State Department said in this year's International Religious Freedom Report.
In the report issued on Wednesday, the US said ISIS militants forced centuries-old Christian communities to convert, pay a ruinous tax or die, while kidnapping, selling, enslaving and raping thousands of women and children on the basis for their faith, the Associated Press wrote.
The report cited the assassination of several Druze clerics and a Jesuit priest by gunmen believed to belong to Al-Qaida's branch in Syria. In Iraq, Shiite militias targeted Sunnis with abductions, torture and execution-style killings, the report added.
The US State Department accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of allowing the ISIS and other Islamist extremists to spread and gain strength in some areas, while claiming to be the "protector" of Syria's minorities.
At a news conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry deplored the continuing attacks on religious minorities, saying that "practitioners of one faith [must] understand that they have no right to coerce others into submission, conversion or silence, or to literally take their lives because of their beliefs."
While Kerry condemned the actions taken by terrorists, he said, "We do not agree with governments that use those crimes as a pretext for prohibiting religious activities that are in fact nonviolent and legitimate," adding that "those who misuse the terms 'terrorist' and 'extremist' are not fooling anybody."
The US State Department report also cited certain "weak governments" that "either looked the other way or proved powerless to prevent the violence." It said "authorities in many cases didn't bother investigating abuses, let alone arrest and prosecute those responsible for attacks."
The report listed the countries where the worst atrocities happened last year:
● Nigeria and neighbouring countries: Boko Haram killed more Christians and "moderate" Muslims in 2014 than in the last five years combined, destroying more churches and mosques.
● Iran: The government harassed, detained and executed Christians, other religious minorities and Muslims who were accused of making "innovations in the religion" and "spreading corruption on Earth."
● China: Christians, Muslims and others faced routine official harassment.
● Pakistan: Violators of so-called blasphemy laws faced discrimination and even death.Terrorists blew up a bus carrying Hazara Shiite pilgrims and attacked houses of worship and religious gatherings.
●Myanmar: Buddhist monks intensified their campaign against Rohingya Muslims, some of whom had their land and property confiscated.
●Saudi Arabia: A court convicted a young blogger to a decade in prison and 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam."
●Sudan: A Muslim woman received a sentence of 100 lashes and death by hanging for committing apostasy and adultery by marrying a Christian man, before the government released her under international pressure.
Violence resulting from religious intolerance wasn't limited to the developing world.
In the summer of 2014, the report noted that France and Germany faced a wave of anti-Israel sentiment "that crossed the line into anti-Semitism," leaving people questioning the viability of European Jewish communities. It noted that killing of four people in the Jewish Museum of Belgium by a French Muslim who was radicalised in prison. The report violence resulted from a wave of hate speeches and desecration.
The International Religious Freedom Report is an annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom. It describes the status of religious freedom in every country and covers government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and US policies to promote religious freedom around the world.
The US Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.