19 August 2014
‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance’ - Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18
Recent events in the middle east in particular have drawn attention to the widespread but under-reported violation of this fundamental human right with Christians the group most affected.
The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that 100,000 Christians now die every year, targeted because of their faith – that is 11 every hour.
The Pew Research Center says that hostility to religion reached a new high in 2012, when Christians faced some form of discrimination in 139 countries, almost three-quarters of the world's nations.
According to the International Service for Human Rights, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.
"Christians are languishing in jail for blasphemy in Pakistan, and churches are burned and worshippers regularly slaughtered in Nigeria and Egypt, which has recently seen its worst anti-Christian violence in seven centuries," says professor of public ethics at Chester University, Paul Vallely. He points to increasing persecution in China; in North Korea where a quarter of the country's Christians live in forced labour camps after "refusing to join the national cult of the state's founder, Kim Il-Sung"; in Somalia, Syria, Iraq (where thousands of Christians have been forced to flee from the advance of the extremist ISIS group) , Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Maldives, which feature in the 10 worst places to be a Christian.
Both Viet Nam and the UN have been called upon to investigate and ensure accountability for the intimidation and harassment of individuals who sought to meet with the UN's expert on freedom of religion during his recent mission to the country.