Release International has been speaking in support of the Bishop of Truro’s report on persecuted Christians, following suggestions that the scale of the persecution might have been exaggerated.
One response to the report has questioned the claim that 80 per cent of all religious persecution today is now aimed at Christians.
Radio 4’s Sunday programme spoke to Release International, which contributed to the report, the Rev Bonnie Evans-Hills, who questions some of its findings, and the government’s newly appointed Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Rehman Chisti.
Presenter William Crawley asked Andrew Boyd of Release whether the claim that Christian persecution is rising can be justified…
A QUESTION OF SCALE
One response to the Persecution Report has questioned the claim that the overwhelming majority of persecuted religious believers today are Christians.
The response to the Bishop of Truro’s report by the University of Birmingham casts doubt on the claim that 80 per cent of those persecuted for their faith are Christians.
Their response describes the statistic as ‘unsubstantiated’ and implies it is out of date and had been withdrawn.
While Release International does not commission statistical research, reports and case studies from Release partners on the ground firmly support the evidence that the persecution of Christians is on the rise. So it is important to examine this latest claim that this key figure is ‘unsubstantiated’.
80 per cent
The 80 per cent figure was originally provided by International Society for Human Rights, a secular organisation based in Germany.
In a footnote to his report, the Bishop of Truro writes: ‘Although this figure no longer appears on the ISHR website this is simply because it is now ten years old. However, in private conversation with leading figures in ISHR they stand by the figure and suggest that it is now a conservative estimate.’
In other words, this secular NGO believes the proportion of Christians facing persecution today could be even higher.
That 80 per cent figure was cited in a 2015 report by the University of Notre Dame, based on research by ’17-leading scholars of global Christianity’. The report, Under Caesar’s Sword, Christian Response to Persecution went on to state:
‘Even the most conservative estimates of the Christian proportion of global religious persecution do not fall below 60 per cent.’
More Christians targeted
‘A report of the U.S. State Department shows that Christians face persecution in over 60 countries. According to the non-partisan Pew Research Center, for each year between 2007 and 2014, Christians have been targeted for harassment in more countries than any other religious group.’
Subsequent findings by the Pew Research Centre in 2017 stated again that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world, concluding that in 2016 Christians were targeted in 144 countries – a rise from 125 in 2015.
According to Pew Research, ‘Christians have been harassed in more countries than any other religious group and have suffered harassment in many of the heavily Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa.’
Release International’s colleagues Open Doors estimate ‘approximately 245 million Christians living in the top 50 countries suffer high levels of persecution or worse,’ That figure represents an increase of 30 million on the previous year.
So the available research points clearly to a rise in the persecution of Christians.
And Release International’s partners on the ground say much the same. Take three examples: India, China and Nigeria.
India attacks double
Release partners note that recorded attacks against Christians in India, where right-wing nationalism is on the rise, have more than doubled, and more states are passing anti-conversion laws.
China passed tough anti-religion laws in 2018. Release International’s partners say persecution in China is now arguably as severe as during the Cultural Revolution.
And in 2018 more Christians were killed in Nigeria in violence in which religious faith was a critical factor than anywhere else in the world. Nigeria accounted for 90 per cent of all the deaths attributed to persecution.
Release partner Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi has just published his biography, Neither Bomb Nor Bullet, which examines the rise of Islamist violence in Nigeria.
The Archbishop, who’s been targeted for assassination three times, is in no doubt about the reason for the rise in persecution in Nigeria.
The overarching aim, he says, is to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state. This is the clearly stated aim of the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.
The latest challenge from Christians in Nigeria comes from Fulani militants, who have been driving out Christians in the north.
In 2015 the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) named Fulani extremists as the fourth-deadliest terror group in the world.
Release International’s response to the Bishop of Truro’s report was that it represents a welcome correction to the underreporting of attacks on Christians.
Release CEO Paul Robinson said: ‘The report highlighted definitively that Christians are far and away the most persecuted religious group in the world today.
‘Release is delighted that the government has pledged to take the protection of Christians into the very heart of government policy. We hope it will send a vital message to governments everywhere that the violence has to stop.
‘In accepting this report, the UK government is saying the world will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to discrimination and violence against Christians.’
The Persecution Report was commissioned by then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He put it like this: ‘We’ve all been asleep on the watch when it comes to the persecution of Christians.’
The report comes as a timely wake-up call to the sheer scale of the persecution facing Christians around the world.