10 Countries Infamous for Religious Persecution


The multiple, controversial attempts to ban immigrants and refugees from Syria has had millions questioning how much the United States of America lives up to its ideals of religious tolerance. While it’s important for a country to take a long, hard look at itself, it’s also important to give a real, thorough look at the rest of the world. At nations and regions where attempted genocide can take place beneath the eyes of the world.

Not that every nation and atrocity mentioned in this article will be obscure, but even the more widely known entries have nuances you might not have been aware of. Please bear in mind this is not intended to denigrate any faith or any nation, or to negate the hardships any groups of religious people are experiencing through comparisons with those of others.

10. Mexico

Ten seconds studying the European Christian Reformation that began in the 1520s would tell you that religious persecution can be worst when one denomination of a religion goes after another, which is known as sectarian violence. Fox News reports that this horrible conflict has, in a sense, resumed in Mexico, where the population is roughly 80% Catholic.

A reported 150 incidents occurred in 2015 and early 2016. These have gone so far that in January 2016 in the state of Chiapas in Southern Mexico, there were thirty reported cases of Evangelical Christians being forced from their homes and then banished from their communities after refusing to convert under duress. Afterwards, their homes were destroyed. If they attempted to return to their communities, they faced a fate like that of Lauro Nunez, who was beaten and imprisoned. Chiapas seems to be the primary state where these attacks occur, though that’s small consolation since they shouldn’t be happening anywhere.

9. France

The Jewish population of France was roughly 500,000 in January 2015 when Charlie Hebdo employees were murdered by Islamic extremists. In the year following, roughly 8,000 of them moved to Israel, hardly the safest or stablest country in the world, and that was about four times as much as it was in the early 2000s. Fifty thousand had contacted the Jewish Agency of Israel about the possibility.

It was a very unsurprising response to the fact it’s a country where reported hate crimes against Jews numbered 851 in 2014 and during a four month period in 2015 there were 508. Most of their abuse does not come from the National Front, even though it’s an openly fascist organization and we know the history that political movement has with Jews. It’s Muslims, the religious followers who number about five million in France, who do the most harm to Jews. Muslims have also been the target of many hate crimes, with 400 happening in 2015. Such is the difficult, dangerous nature of social progress.

8. Eritrea

The two main religions in this Northeastern Coastal African nation of Eritrea are Sunni Islam and Orthodox Christianity, and publications including the World Atlas state that they will both be brutal in excluding other sects. In 2002 the government banned all unregistered religious institutions, and groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals were subsequently hunted by the government for crimes as small as reading Christian bibles in their own time.

As the BBC reported in 2004, offending Christians often had their heads shaved and were imprisoned in metal freight boxes, as many as thirty to a box. Even worse, and apparently practically routine, was a punishment where heretics’ wrists and legs would be tied together behind their backs before milk was poured on them to attract flies, known locally as “helicopter torture.” Little wonder that there are attempts underway to have the Eritrean government charged with crimes against humanity.

7. China

Because one of Communism’s central tenets is the lack of a state religion, it’s unfortunately unsurprising that Christians and Muslims face persecution from the Chinese government, which labels them cults. Over a two year period from 2014 to 2016, over 1,200 makeshift churches have had their crosses removed by the government, an act which can be accompanied by such violence that in one case 50 people were injured. Between the fact that Muslim practices such as the headscarf and the holy days of Ramadan are banned, the Chinese Islamic sect known as the Uighur have led to such violent clashes with the police that in one instance in May 2014, 31 people were killed and more than 90 others were injured.

One side effect of this is that it has driven some Chinese people to terrorism. Newsweek reported that in 2015 at least 600 Chinese people had joined ISIS. Those may not seem like vast ranks of soldiers, but considering the harm ISIS continues to do in the world, with roughly 12,000 soldiers, the damage any of those 600 could inflict should not be ignored.

6. Egypt

A Coptic Christian is a follower of a sect in Northeastern Africa centered around St. Mark. In Egypt, the legal system is almost tailor made to allow for Muslims to abuse them. Not only are there cases of the police ignoring reports of threats of violence against them. Not only are there crimes such as a mob of 300 Muslims murdering a 70-year-old Coptic Christian in the town of Minya without so much as a charge being filed. It’s so bad that a Coptic Christian can’t even testify in court against a Muslim. A Muslim cannot be legally executed for murdering a Christian.

In August 2013, a large amount of churches were vandalized or demolished, and nearly 100 have been murdered in hate crimes since 2011. On the subject of 2011, that year in the city of Aswan, a protest against the destruction of a church resulted in protesters being crushed by armored vehicles and shot. But for all this, many Christians and Muslims are willing to cooperate during times of religious service, leaving some optimistic that if the laws are democratically changed, the persecution will be much closer to a bad memory.

5. Sri Lanka

Similar to China, the island nation of Sri Lanka to the south of India has borne witness to horrible abuse to both Christians and Muslims. In this instance the perpetrator isn’t an atheist government body. It’s hardline Buddhist organizations such as the Buddhist Power Force. Despite how their name translates into something fairly ridiculous in English, the group can be deadly dangerous.

Modern violence against the Muslims that comprise ten percent of the population began in 2013 with people being beaten bloody in the streets, pork being thrown into mosques, and only escalated over the course of 130 incidents. In June 2014 they attacked a community of Muslims in the village of Welipitiya and killed three of them while injuring 78 and burning down three Mosques, along with other religious centers.

Christians, who are a slightly smaller minority in Sri Lanka than Muslims at seven percent, have been persecuted since 2009. It started with 52 hate crimes that year, and by 2014, it was up to 120. There were hopes in 2015 that a new regime would lessen the abuse, but it hasn’t decreased. Churches have been burned or even torn apart by mobs. Legislation to ban religious conversion and all missionary groups are both being pushed by militants. All especially hard to believe in light of Buddhism’s reputation as a passive, meditative religion.

4. Somalia

In 2015, it was world news that the Somali government had canceled Christmas, especially after President Obama denounced the decision. But between the official anti-Christian stance and the rebel group al-Shabab rebels will cross into neighboring Kenya to murder Somali Christians who fled the country. In October 2016 they performed an attack which killed twelve Christians. Even that paled in comparison to a 2015 Somali attack where as few as ten militants crossed into Kenya and killed 147 Christians at a Kenyan university.

In the nation itself, there are reports that being known as a Christian will create a risk of being killed on the spot. It’s only slightly relevant whether they actually are or not. Raids like a 2008 example where four school employees were killed for suspicion of being Christian are hardly rare. Christian activist groups are also skeptical that a recently elected presidential administration under Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo will alleviate the violence at all despite his promises of bringing peace.

3. North Korea

This notoriously despotic, impoverished nation is consistently rated as the nation where Christians face the most persecution. Forbes reported in 2016 that there are still an estimated 300,000-500,000 Christians effectively trapped within North Korea’s borders, of which about 50,000 are being used for forced labor in penal camps specifically for their beliefs. Even in these horrible conditions, escapees said that they continued their worship services in whatever private areas they could find, usually latrines.

Since the end of American involvement in the Korean War in 1953, an estimated 200,000 Christians have gone “missing.” More openly there have been acts such as the 2013 public execution of eighty people for crimes such as owning a bible or a South Korean movie. International clergy members that visit are not safe either, such as Toronto pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, who was arrested in 2015. And yet in the face of all this persecution, the regime continues to claim that there are five hundred unofficial churches that people are allowed to have in their homes.

2. Myanmar

In the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, the million person strong Muslim population known as the Rohingya comprises roughly 2% of the population and they’re almost exclusively immigrants from Bangladesh. Most of them are not granted citizenship, even if they have lived in Myanmar their entire lives like their ancestors before them. In 2012, militant Buddhists similar to the groups in Sri Lanka began attacking their communities, resulting in hundreds of them being murdered. More than 140,000 of them have been forced from their homes and stuck in refugee camps, where many of them have to live in such horrible shelters as shipping containers.

Violent attacks against them have not decreased in the camps. One woman described how, during an attack when her home was set on fire, and her son was taken and thrown into the burning building. He was eight years old. Reports of Muslim refugees being sexually assaulted are horribly common, too. Due to their horribly unsafe living conditions, Rohingya Muslims of every age are vulnerable to human trafficking. In short, they are quite possibly the most persecuted group of people in the world, and human rights advocates that work with them or campaign for them are pessimistic that anything will ever be done for them.

1. Iraq

Although many in America fear a terrorist attack from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and they are waging war against all Christianity, the people who most have to fear from ISIS are other Islamic people. ISIS claims that being a Shia Muslim (as the majority of Muslims in Iraq are) means that someone is an apostate and targets them with horrifying effectiveness. They also have been stated by former US Secretary of State John Kerry to be attempting genocide on the Muslim sect Yazidi. This group in particular felt ISIS’s appalling barbarity when in August 2014 forty thousand of them attempting to flee the country were trapped on the Sinjar Mountains in far northern Iraq, where they would be killed if they left, or die of dehydration or commit suicide by jumping off cliffs.

In June that same year, 670 Shia were murdered in Badush, Iraq during one attack. Other attacks such as one that happened near Baghdad in July 2016 added 300 Shia to the death toll in one stroke. In short, however much the rest of the world may still fear ISIS, no one has more reason to see the organization destroyed than the majority of the Iraqi population.

Dustin Koski can be followed on Facebook.

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