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More than 61 per cent of the world’s population live in countries where religious freedom is not respected, according to a worldwide report released last night by Aid to the Church in Need.

The report’s executive summary states that from June 2016 to June 2018, the situation for minority faith groups deteriorated in 18 of the 38 countries assessed and almost half were found to have significant religious freedom violations.

Regarding religious freedom in Australia, the report gives specific examples of numerous instances of societal intolerance and anti-religious violence in Australia.

Read the full report here.

There is also an Executive Summary of the Report which can be read online here.


The Religious Freedom in the World Report 2018 criticises governments stating: “Most Western governments have failed to provide urgently needed assistance to minority faith groups, especially displaced communities wanting to return home.”

The report states that most governments failed to offer displaced minority faith groups the help they themselves have requested to enable their return to northern Iraq and elsewhere following the ousting of Daesh (ISIS) and other militant groups.

The investigation by the Catholic charity finds that media coverage about militant Islam has focused almost exclusively on the fight-back against Daesh and affiliate groups during the period under review – 2016-18 – and has largely ignored the relentless spread of militant Islamist movements in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

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Worsening intolerance towards religious minorities meant that for the first time in the report’s 19-year history two new countries: Russia and Kyrgyzstan – were placed in the “discrimination” category.

The report adds that in a number of cases, such as Saudi Arabia and North Korea, the situation was already so bad that in the period under review it was virtually impossible for it to get any worse.

Turning to the West, the report highlights a surge in extremist attacks by militants against targets in the West. 

Such terrorism striking at the heart of liberal democracies means that the threat can be called “neighbourhood terrorism”. The report says the danger from such terrorists is “universal, imminent and ever-present”.

The Religious Freedom in the World Report 2018 underlines in this context the growth of both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the West as well.

Summarising the report’s main findings, Editor-in-Chief John Pontifex said: “Aggressive ultra-nationalism – be it by hard-line governments or violent extremist groups – means many minority faith groups feel like aliens in their own country. They are easy targets in a new era of ignorance and intolerance.

“True, there are some like the Rohingya Muslims, whose plight has received due attention in the West, but so many others – such as Christians in Nigeria, Ahmadis in Pakistan and Baha’is in Iran – feel abandoned by the West where religious freedom has slipped down the human rights priority rankings.”

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The report looks at all 196 countries of the world, examining the degree to which the basic right to religious freedom, as defined in Article 18 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is respected with regard to all the world’s major religious faiths.

Grave violations of religious freedom were found to occur in a total of 38 countries. In 17 of these, serious discrimination on grounds of religious faith prevails, whereas in the remaining 21 countries, there is outright persecution of religious minorities, in some cases to the point of death. 

As the Report reveals, in some of the most wanting countries from the point of view of religious freedom, the situation has only deteriorated over the past two years. And on the global level in general, overall respect for religious freedom has also worsened.

In reaction to this development Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern, Executive President of ACN recalls that "Pope Francis, as well as his immediate predecessors, have all stressed that religious freedom is a fundamental human right rooted in the dignity of man” and therefore, “as a papal foundation, we see it as our duty to draw worldwide attention to this intrinsic link between religious freedom and human dignity through proper information."

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According to the report, in Africa’s Middle Belt, religious freedom is threatened by the advance of jihadist Islamism, whereas in countries such as India there is real concern at the growth of Hindu “ultranationalism”, which has resulted in a marked decline in religious freedom in this country over the past two years.

As the study shows, in 22 countries the reason for the attacks on religious freedom are rooted in radical Islamism, while in other countries the dominant causes are rooted elsewhere, notably in the authoritarianism of States or governments which pursue policy of extreme nationalism.
Such authoritarian or extreme nationalist states number 16 in total, though at the same time they account for a very large population of over 3 billion people, since they include such countries as China, India, North Korea, Burma (Myanmar) Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan among others.

On a more positive note, the level of religious freedom appears to have improved both in Syria and Iraq. Following the military defeat of Isis/ Daesh, the religious minorities have begun to return to their former homes, most notably in the case of Christians from the towns and villages of the Niniveh Plains in Iraq. On the basis of the information gathered in this report it is estimated that some 327 million Christians live in countries where they face religious persecution and 178 million in countries where there is discrimination on religious grounds.

As a result, one in every five Christians around the world lives in a country where there is religious persecution or discrimination. "Unfortunately, a perceptible improvement in religious freedom is still far off," concludes Thomas Heine-Geldern. "Therefore, even this 14th report on religious freedom will not be the last one that our ACN Foundation will have to prepare in fulfilling its mission of information."

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