Bahai News - THE GLOBAL REALITY OF RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION
Section: CURRENT ISSUES
SPECIAL REPORT--THE GLOBAL REALITY OF RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION
Today, religious persecution by communist regimes and militant Islamic
societies poses the greatest threat to religious freedom
The twentieth century has seen the worst religious persecution in history.
More Christians, Jews, and Buddhists have been martyred for religious reasons
during the last hundred years than in any comparable period.
A WORLDWIDE PHENOMENON
Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, and al-Turabi are some of the large-scale
persecutors responsible for many millions of deaths. As the century draws to
a close, religious persecution by communist regimes and militant Islamic
societies poses the greatest threat, because of its global sweep and
Persecution connotes the most brutal forms of repression: genocide, murder,
torture, imprisonment, slavery, rape, and forcible separation of children
from parents. Discrimination on the basis of religion, a lesser form of
intolerance, also has persisted and continues to be prevalent.
Civil war in Sudan
Non-Muslims are subject to brutal religious persecution in Sudan. The
country's sizable Christian and animist population is facing a holocaust
unleashed by a hostile Islamic regime notorious for terror. Khartoum's
threatened application of Islamic law to non-Muslims, who reside mostly in
the south and constitute almost 30 percent of the population, demonstrates
that the conflict is fundamentally a religious one.
The body count is staggering. More people from Sudan's nonMuslim regions have
been murdered than all the victims in Bosnia (300,000), Kosovo (1,000), and
Rwanda (500,000) combined. The Sudanese government's scorched-earth and
forced-starvation tactics have caused the deaths of over 1.5 million people
and displaced 5 million civilians, mostly Christians. Another 2.6 million
are in imminent danger of starvation as Khartoum now escalates its jihad, or
holy war, against the non-Muslim south.
As it has done routinely over the past decade, the Sudanese government is
bombing, burning, and raiding southern villages; enslaving thousands of women
and children; kidnapping and forcibly converting Christian and other
non-Muslim boys and sending them to the front as cannon fodder; annihilating
entire villages or relocating them into concentration camps called "peace
villages"; and preventing food from reaching starving communities. Individual
Christians, including clergy, continue to be assassinated, imprisoned,
tortured, flogged, and even crucified for their faith.
Throughout the past spring, the government bombed and pillaged agricultural
areas to exacerbate the effects of drought and simultaneously blocked
international relief flights from importing desperately needed medicine and
food. Khartoum has recently stepped up its bombing raids. In mid-September,
the Washington Post reported that a government warplane bombed the largest
refugee camp in southern Sudan, killing refugees and violating its own
announcement of a unilateral cease-fire that had been declared the month
before. A UN investigating team also reported that government troops are
looting international food-aid deliveries to the starving south.
Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tennessee), after visiting southern Sudan, wrote in the
July 19 Washington Post:
The radical Islamic regime in Khartoum is unmatched in its barbarity toward
the sub-Saharan or "black African" Christians of the country's South. It is
largely responsible for creating this impending disaster through a concerted
and sustained war on its own people, in which calculated starvation, bombing
of hospitals, slavery and the killing of innocent women and children are
The deputy speaker of the United Kingdom's House of Lords, Baroness Caroline
Cox, called what she witnessed this summer in southern Sudan "genocide,"
reporting that she found "man-made death and destruction on an unprecedented
Anti-Baha'i in Iran
The fundamentalist Islamic government of Iran distinguishes between
"infidels," whom it openly persecutes, and "people of the Book," whom it
provides certain legal protections but treats as second-class citizens.
Members of the Baha'i faith are in the former category. They constitute
Iran's largest religious minority but are not recognized as a legitimate
religion and have no legal rights.
More than 200 Baha'is, mostly elected community leaders, have been executed
since 1979, solely on account of their religion. Four more are currently on
death row. On July 21, Ruhollah Rowhani, aged 52, a medical supplies salesman
and father of four, was executed by hanging for converting a Muslim to his
own Baha'i faith. There is no evidence that Rowhani was accorded due process
of law. He was arrested and jailed in September 1997 and had been kept in
solitary confinement since then. Rowhani's family learned of the execution
when they were called to pick up the body.
Since the Islamic republic came to power in Iran, Baha'is have been barred
from electing leaders, organizing schools, and conducting other religious
activities. All cemeteries, holy places, and community properties were seized
soon after the 1979 revolution. More than 10,000 Baha'is have been dismissed
from government and university posts due to their beliefs, and Baha'i students
have been barred from universities. Baha'i marriages and divorces are not
recognized by the state, and the right to inherit is denied.
The Iranian constitution grants certain civil rights to Jews, Zoroastrians,
and Christians. Members of these groups cannot be employed by the government,
however, and permits for highly profitable businesses are granted only to
Muslims. Jews are especially vulnerable to violence and vandalism because of
the militantly anti-Zionist regime. Iran continues to call for the destruction
of the state of Israel, opposing the Middle East peace process. Iran funds
anti-Israel terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hizballah.
Iranian Jews are banned from traveling to Israel and are imprisoned or fined
if suspected of visiting secretly.
Christian evangelicals and members of the Unification Church are forced
underground in their work to attract converts. Muslims who convert to another
religion are considered "apostates" and may be executed. In the past four
years, four top Protestant pastors were murdered under circumstances pointing
to government death squads or radical Muslim elements in society.
Only Muslims tolerated in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has zero tolerance for non-Muslim religions. In the entire
country, no churches, synagogues, temples, or other non-Muslim places of
worship are permitted. It is illegal to read Bibles or utter a non-Islamic
prayer even in the privacy of the home. In its role as the keeper of global
Islam, the Saudi Arabian government does not tolerate any practice of religion
other than Islam--either by its own citizens or by foreigners. Special
religious police, muttawa, enter homes forcibly, searching for evidence of
A full quarter of the population are foreign workers, many of whom are not
Muslims; most frequently, this community is targeted. Last summer 30
foreigners were found to be practicing Christianity in a private home and
were imprisoned until, under international pressure, they were deported. In
1997, two Filipino Christians were reportedly executed for praying, and a
third was imprisoned and flogged.
State worship in North Korea and China
Within the communist world, no place is harsher than North Korea,where since
1948 religion has been virtually eliminated as a "superstition" and a
"hindrance to the socialist revolution." In 1948, to further a systematic
campaign of indoctrination in his own Stalinist ideology, the late communist
dictator Kim Il Sung killed, imprisoned, or exiled all religious leaders and
closed houses of worship. He then imposed an alternative religion--a
personality cult built around himself and his son, current dictator Kim Jong
From early childhood, North Koreans are taught to look on the "Great Leader"
Kim Il Sung and "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il as infallible, godlike beings and
the progenitors of the Korean race. To deflect criticism from Western
visitors, Kim allowed three Christian churches to open in the late 1980s, but
they are under strict government control.
While China has discarded communist economic policies in favor of capitalism,
it is no democracy. In the face of astronomical growth in public worship,
Beijing attempts to control religion as it did in the early days of communist
rule. China rognizes only five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism,
Protestantism, and Islam.
All religious believers must worship within churches sanctioned and controlled
by the government. Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Muslims who persist in
praying independently are sent to labor camp, imprisoned, or heavily fined.
Despite assurances to the West that this is a "golden period" for religion,
Chinese authorities have issued documents in recent years directing a "special
class struggle" against unregistered Christian churches. Catholics and
Protestants in some regions are reporting that this is the worst period of
persecution since the catastrophic Cultural Revolution ended 20 years ago.
Hundreds of Chinese Christian leaders, including about 10 Catholic bishops,
are under some form of detention or restriction. One is Peter Xu, an
evangelical pastor who was sentenced in 1997 to a three-year labor camp term
and is now forced to work as a slave making Christmas ornaments for export.
Another is Catholic Bishop James Su, who was imprisoned a year ago after
issuing a petition asking for greater religious freedom.
Beatings, electric shock torture, and church closings are frequently reported
by the Christian underground, particularly in hard-hit Hebei, Henan, Zhejiang,
and Jiangxi Provinces.
Two American journalists traveling in September to China were handed an
unprecedented appeal by a dozen Chinese Protestant pastors, claiming to have
15 million followers in their underground "house church." Their appeal asked
authorities to release Christian prisoners and stop attacks on their churches.
This act of desperation could be cause for arrest; it showed that persecution
has reached intolerable levels for Christians, who want the West to know and
intervene on their behalf.
No freedom in Tibet--harsh conditions elsewhere
The Chinese regime has been even more brutal with Tibetan Buddhists and
Muslim Uighurs from western Xinjiang Autonomous Region, because their
religious expression has been entangled with a nationalist movement. Recent
reports state that there are currently more Chinese prisons than Buddhist
monasteries in Lhasa, Tibet's capital.
In 1997, according to Tibetan exiles, there were 1,216 known Tibetan Buddhist
political prisoners, many of them monks and nuns. Among them is Chadrel
Rinpoche, a former abbot who headed the search party for the discovery of the
reincarnation of the tenth Panchen Lama. Now serving a six-year prison term,
he is the most senior lama to have been convicted in recent years. More than
50 Buddhists have been detained in connection with this search, and the
chosen Panchen Lama, a young boy, is being held captive by Beijing.
On the eve of Ramadan in 1997, 30 Uighur religious leaders were arrested and
accused of rioting. When local people protested the arrests, police fired
into the crowd, killing 167 people and arresting 5,000, according to the
Uighur exile community. Beijing has since intensified its control over the
Uighurs by systematically repressing religious authority, restricting
religious study and traditional practices, destroying mosques, and increasing
the persecution of clergy.
Vietnam, Pakistan, Egypt, and Laos are some of the other places where
religious minorities, such as Buddhists, Ahmadis, Catholics, Protestants,
Orthodox Christians, and other, smaller religious groups face severe
In late 1997, Russia passed a law stating that only those churches and places
of worship recognized during the hard-line Brezhnev period could continue to
operate. This law takes away many religious freedoms won by Russian citizens
following the 1992 dissolution of the Soviet Union. The new law, bad as it is,
is being further abused by officials during this current time of legal
breakdown. Houses of worship are being closed, and some foreign religious
leaders are being forced to leave the country.
Intolerance and discrimination, while not as severe as outfight persecution,
are making a comeback in certain Western nations. Belgium, France, and
Germany are considering proposals for controlling what it considers dangerous
"sects" and "cults." Roman Catholic organizations, some evangelical churches,
Pentecostal churches, Jewish groups, the Unification Church, Jehovah's
Witnesses, Buddhists, Quakers, and Scientologists are some of the groups
identified by "anticult" movements that are seeking to restrict religious
freedom. While there are no reports of arrests in western Europe, some of the
restrictions already adopted are ominous.
The idealistic principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights--whose
fiftieth anniversary is being celebrated this year--are deemed by legal
scholars to be part of "customary" international law, which means they are
binding on all nations. It is urgent that over the next half century, the
world community addresses ways to enforce Article 18 of the declaration,
which ensures religious freedom for all.
Religious Intolerance around the World
In Sudan, non-Muslims are subject to brutal religious persecution.
The Baha'i, Iran's largest religious minority, are not recognized as a
legitimate religion and have no legal rights.
Saudi Arabia has zero tolerance for non-Muslim religions.
The late Kim II Sung and his son, Kim Jong II, are worshiped as godlike
figures in North Korea.
In China, Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and Muslims who pray independently
of government-approved churches are often sent to labor camp, imprisoned, or
©Copyright 1998, World & I (News World Communications, Inc.)
Page last updated/revised 051001
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