As the leaders of the Commonwealth countries gather together for their 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Towards a common future (16-20 April 2018) Open Doors is asking that they put freedom of religion and belief at the heart of their discussions.
Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK, said: “The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will be unable to realise its agenda of securing a common future without explicitly including the right to freedom of religion or belief in its plans. We urge leaders of the Commonwealth to ensure that this fundamental human right is placed at the heart of discussions in London and that decisive measures are taken to ensure it is protected across all Commonwealth countries.”
Eight of the 53 Commonwealth countries appear on the Open Doors World Watch List – the ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
5 on Open Doors World Watch List
Life is very difficult for Pakistan’s Christians; the country’s notorious blasphemy laws are often used to persecute Christians for things that would not be considered significant in Britain. Asia Bibi has been in prison since 2009 for drinking from the same cup as her Muslim co-workers in a rural field. Schoolboy Sharoon Masih was killed for drinking from a water bottle that was passed around the classroom.
11 on Open Doors World Watch List
As the Hindu nationalist agenda increasingly takes over in India, Christians are facing rising levels of persecution. Much of this occurs in rural villages. Sisters Meena* (32) and Sunita* (25) were left to die after villagers attacked them for being Christians. They are believers from a Hindu background, and were forced to leave their village- a situation faced by hundreds of others every year.
14 on Open Doors World Watch List
With President Buhari announcing his intention to run for a second term as Nigeria’s leader and to stand for re-election in February 2019, the ongoing persecution of Christians by Boko Haram and the nomadic Fulani Herdsmen is a problem that he needs to solve.
23 on Open Doors World Watch List
Ethnic Malays are considered to be Muslims and the constitution prevents Malays from converting to other religions. Christians from Muslim backgrounds face fierce persecution. Pastor Raymond Koh was abducted in February 2017 and is still missing.
26 on Open Doors World Watch List
Converting away from Islam is illegal; if believers from a Muslim background are identified by security services they will be threatened to make them recant their new faith. Some Christians and members of other minority groups are denied official citizenship rendering them stateless. In December 2015 Brunei’s leaders said that anyone celebrating Christmas in public will face up to five years imprisonment. Imams in the oil-rich sultanate threatened strict enforcement of the ban: “Using religious symbols like crosses, lighting candles, putting up Christmas trees, singing religious songs, sending Christmas greetings are against Islamic faith,” they wrote.
32 on Open Doors World Watch List
Islamic extremists such as al-Shabaab are increasingly targeting Christians in north east and coastal areas of Kenya. The worst attack was in April 2015 when the Christian university in Garissa was attacked and 147 Christians were killed. It was forced to close, but subsequently reopened in September 2016.
41 on Open Doors World Watch List
Though Bangladesh has a secular government and its secularism is laid down in the country’s constitution, the constitution also declares that Islam is the state religion. Radical Islamic groups, local religious leaders and families put intense pressure on Christians. Christians face increased restrictions as more Islamic laws are introduced, especially in rural areas. Converts from a Muslim, Hindu or tribal background suffer the most severe persecution. Christians often gather in small house churches or secret groups due to fear of attack. Even historical churches like the Roman Catholic Church are facing increased hostility, attacks and death threats. Bangladesh has also seen a rise in violence by the so-called Islamic State. After the floods in 2017 an aid worker told Open Doors: “Many believers (from Muslim backgrounds and Hindu backgrounds) are among these victims. Most of them have been neglected to receive relief from the government because of their faith in Christ.”
44 on Open Doors World Watch List
In Sri Lanka the Christian minority is partly tolerated, but converts to Christianity are not. The main sources of persecution are radical Buddhist movements, which are often supported by local officials. They claim Sri Lanka as a Buddhist nation. In rural areas Christian converts are often abused by their own families and village officials, who demand they leave the village. Non-traditional churches are frequently targeted by Buddhist monks and local officials, who campaign to get church buildings closed down as they regard them as illegal.
Pastor Dinesh has led a church in Kandy district, central Sri Lanka, for 30 years. When he started building an extension to his church in December 2015 he was told by the village committee, police and religious officials to stop, and that he was no longer welcome. The community filed a case against him, and, in court, the judge ruled against him for having an unauthorised place of worship; he was ordered to close down the church. He appealed his case and won but then local Buddhist villagers singled out business owners at the church and stopped buying their goods and services.