As the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief is observed, the Pontifical Charity, Aid to the Church in Need (UK) is calling on the British government to take action to protect those who are persecuted for their faith.
Freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of association are interdependent, interrelated, and mutually reinforcing, and are all enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to the United Nations, “There are continuing acts of intolerance and violence based on religion or belief against individuals, including against persons belonging to religious communities and religious minorities around the world, and the number and intensity of such incidents, which are often of a criminal nature and may have international characteristics, are increasing.”
In light of this, the UN General Assembly decided to designate 22 August as the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.
Among those who are observing this International Day is the Pontifical charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which says not enough is being done to tackle the issue of religious persecution.
Dr. Caroline Hull, National Director of ACN (UK), is calling for action by the new British Prime Minister who will succeed Boris Johnson, to take action to ensure violations of freedom of religion or belief are brought to an end.
She said that in terms of specific issues in the UK, Aid to the Church in Need has been working for the last couple of years asking that asylum be granted to young Pakistani Christian, Maira Shabhaz, who was kidnapped when she was fourteen. She was raped and forced to convert to Islam, and then forced to marry her abductor. Since escaping, Maira has been hiding in one room for the last two years with her mother and siblings. Dr. Hull stressed that although negotiations with parliamentarians are ongoing, the granting of asylum to Maira is something that the UK government could authorize, and would really make a statement.
The charity continues to receive distressing reports of people suffering terrible abuses because of their faith, which include rape, murder and kidnapping. The ACN director said that violence is happening in different parts of the world.
Dr. Hull pointed out that countries such as China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mozambique and Afghanistan, as well as areas of the Middle East have undergone “tremendous tribulation and suffering.”
The charity says that in Nigeria alone, 2022 has seen a priest kidnapped and tortured to death; a young Christian girl stoned to death and set alight for alleged “blasphemous” WhatsApp messages; and the attack on St Francis Xavier Church, Owo, on Pentecost Sunday, which left at least 41 people dead.
The ACN director noted that Nigeria “is the most populist state in Africa, and it’s important that it doesn’t fall because that will have a knock on effect for the whole region.” She also urged the UK government to do what it can to stabilise the country.
“The government needs to say it as it is; that people are being targeted on the basis that their faith and religion is not that of the group that’s in charge, and therefore it needs to be dealt with,” she said.
Later this year, ACN will launch a report entitled Persecuted and Forgotten: A report on Christians persecuted for their Faith 2020-22, which highlights the situation for Christians in 24 countries.
Asked what people can expect from the findings, Dr. Hull said, “unfortunately, we’re going to see in many of these countries, the situation has grown worse since the previous report which covered 2017-2019.”
She emphasized that there are millions of Christians around the world who are being persecuted, adding that in the west “that’s a hard thing to get our heads around.”
“One of the important shifts that we’re seeing is that Africa is becoming a new sort of hub for these acts of violence based on religion, particularly to religious minorities but particularly to Christians,” noted Dr. Hull.
ACN (UK)’s national director underlined that the publication of the report was an opportunity for members of the UK government to learn about the severity of persecution that Christians suffer.