ACN Canada: Release of the 2021 Religious Freedom Executive Report

Religious Freedom in the World: “The Situation is Deteriorating

The Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Canada office has just published its 2021 Summary Report on Religious Freedom in the World, an indispensable summary of the 15th biennial report which analyzes the state of religious freedom in 196 countries. The full report has been available on the web since April 20 and, once again, unfortunately, the value of this work cannot be denied.

The 15th report on religious freedom, which has been published every two years since 1999, states that there are currently three main threats to religious freedom and peaceful religious coexistence in the world: communist totalitarianism, Islamism and ethno-religious nationalism.

Religious Freedom, a Precious Asset

The report was produced with the collaboration of some 30 experts. The former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Professor Peter Bielefeldt, a German human rights expert, was one of the collaborators and considers it an important project, especially for those who suffer religious persecution. “The Report on Religious Freedom in the World 2021 is important to remind us of the atrocities that are committed in many parts of the world. It is of particular importance to those who suffer violence.” According to Bielefeldt, the “report on religious freedom is a source of hope for many people.” Furthermore, he believes that religious freedom is a “precious asset.”

China: Worthy of Big Brother

“Another two difficult years,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde, ACN’s National Director. “And this year we have the most dramatic report I have ever received. Religious freedom is under attack almost everywhere: the situation is deteriorating.”

“In China, extremely effective facial recognition technologies, first introduced in Xinjiang Province to better control the Uyghur population, are spreading throughout the country,” Lalonde explained. “In Jiangxi Province, more than 200 facial recognition cameras have been installed in churches and temples. Unregistered churches that refused this installation were closed down by the authorities.”

Religious leaders of all government-recognized religious traditions must also—and more strongly than ever—support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party in its major orientations. If they do not do so, a social credit system punishes them, affecting their access and that of their families to education, health and other aspects of daily life.

Africa: 23 of 54 Countries Under Attack

“A large part of the African continent is under attack,” Lalonde says. “Numerous groups with Islamist allegiances are running the show in 23 countries. They are trying to get their hands on areas rich in natural resources. They are also trying to impose an Islam that is very different from the one that has been practised in these regions for centuries. This violent push risks jeopardizing the coexistence of populations that, not so long ago, lived in great harmony and exemplary tolerance between Muslim, Christian and animist believers,” Lalonde continued. “One of the countries in which the situation has deteriorated greatly is Mozambique, in the province of Cabo Delgado. A group affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) has reportedly killed more than 2,500 people in the past three years and displaced another 570,000, creating a humanitarian crisis in one of the world’s poorest countries. The group’s victims include both Muslims and Christians, a situation similar to several African countries mentioned in the report. 

Second-class Citizens

The situation has also deteriorated greatly in India, where the central government’s pursuit of ethno-religious nationalism is becoming intolerable for minority religious groups, mainly Muslims and Christians. ‘In the report, a specialist speaks of a Pakistanization of the country, which refers to the situation in Pakistan. There, Christians are treated outright as second-class citizens,’ she says. Their access to jobs other than a street sweeper, bricklayers, garbage collectors—and other precarious and underpaid jobs—is very difficult, if not impossible,” reports Ms. Lalonde.

A phenomenon that is now spreading to other Asian countries, such as Bhutan and Sri Lanka. There, a wind of nationalism, Hindu and Buddhist respectively, risks giving rise to what we have seen for years in Pakistan: the creation of second-class citizens. “This situation goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in Article 1 that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Several countries have signed the Declaration, but their behaviour towards religious minorities shows that they do not respect it,” says Marie-Claude Lalonde.

Still, There Are Reasons to Be Hopeful

The picture, although darker than in 2018, also has patches of light. “ The one that has garnered my attention is the signing of the document on human brotherhood, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque in Egypt in February 2019. This is a historic step in the Catholic-Muslim dialogue. Moreover, the Pope’s visit to Iraq is a strong symbol, including the historic meeting with Ayatollah Sistani, the spiritual leader of Shia Muslims around the world, and I hope that this will be followed by concrete effects in the field.”

The Summary Report can be read directly on the ACN Canada website acn-canada.org/publications/

 It is also available for download in PDF format here.

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