19 November 2012


“In some States, converts may face criminal prosecution, at times even including the death penalty, for offences such as ‘apostasy,’ ‘heresy,’ ‘blasphemy’ or ‘insult’ in respect of a religion or the country’s dominant tradition and values,” stated Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief when presenting his report to the UN General Assembly.

The General Assembly was reminded that whilst the right to choose one's religion is unconditionally protected under international human rights law, members of religious minorities often experience pressure to join a religion deemed more ‘acceptable’ by the majority, and converts are frequently pressured to reconvert to their previous religion sometimes by Government agencies.

The report also highlighted the legal and administrative restrictions on religious outreach imposed by states, the threats and pressures often placed on men, but particularly women, to convert to the religion of their spouses or future spouses, and repressive measures directed towards children of converts or members of religious minorities which violate the child’s freedom of religion or belief and/or the parents’ right to ensure an education for their children in conformity with their own convictions.

The report makes a series of recommendations to States urging the consistent respect, protection and promotion of the right to freedom of religion or belief in the area of conversion, which ought be reflected in domestic legal provisions, State administrations and public institutions, as well as in the conduct of non-State actors.

An increasing level of harassment and persecution of religious groups has been identified in a report recently released by the Pew Research Center with Christians being the group most frequently targeted group, undergoing harassment by government officials or organizations in 95 countries in the year ending in mid-2010, and by social groups or individuals in 77 countries.

Separate estimates from Aid to the Church in Need and the Center for the Study of Global Christianity  suggest that globally anything from 100,000 to 150,000 Christians die for their beliefs each year.

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