.- The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated Christian persecution in some places, according to a new report from the group Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN).
“The devastating and unprecedented impact of COVID-19 all over the world,” said the new ACN report, “had a direct bearing on trends concerning unjust detention.” Aid to the Church in Need International is a pontifical aid foundation with sectors in 23 countries.
A new report, released Nov. 25, focuses on the plight of Christian prisoners around the world. Titled “Set Your Captors Free,” the report details the kidnapping and detention of Christians by state and non-state actors.
“Around the world, militants, both those in sympathy with Daesh, and those with a very different outlook, including extremists from other faith traditions, target religious minorities with alarming regularity,” ACN’s report said.
Additionally, “there exists the disturbing trend of state actors unjustly detaining members of faith minorities,” the report said.
An average of 309 Christians are “unjustly imprisoned” each month in the 50 worst-offending countries, and more than 1,000 are abducted, the report says, citing the group Open Doors. In prison they face sham trials, arbitrary detention, torture, and prison overcrowding.
When the COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly through the world in the first months of 2020, state arrests of Christians fell as countries focused on combatting the pandemic, and some prisoners were released, the report said.
However, persecution of Christians increased in severity in some cases, both as the pandemic spread and as some countries reopened after lockdowns.
The spread of the virus meant that some courts shut down partially or completely, thus delaying trials for Christians languishing in prison on faith-based charges.
As churches stopped in-person religious services during lockdowns, and conducted them online, some governments have used the opportunity to increase their surveillance of Christians. For instance, footage reportedly showed police in China’s Fujian province raiding an underground church service in May, and dragging attendees out of the gathering.
States and militant groups have used local lockdowns and the global occupation with the virus, to conduct even more attacks against Christians, ACN found. In Nigeria, Fulani militants stepped up attacks Christians in their homes during lockdown.
China, for its part, increased its crackdown on underground Christian groups during the pandemic while the rest of the world was occupied with COVID, the report said.
Once communities began to reopen after lockdowns, some governments restored their surveillance of Christian communities. In Iran, intelligence agents arrested a dozen Christians across three cities in July.
Almost one-third of arrests of Christians without charge, and for faith-based reasons, occurred in China in one 12-month period. From Nov., 2018 through Oct., 2019, Beijing imprisoned or detained without charge more than 1,100 Christians “for faith-based reasons.”
Christians face widespread kidnapping by jihadist militants in Nigeria, with more than 220 Christian captives per year. There has also been a “surge” in kidnappings of priests and religious, ACN reported.
In countries such as Pakistan and Egypt, Christian women are kidnapped and subject to forced conversions and forced marriages. In one Pakistani province, there were 1,000 cases of forced marriages of Christian and Hindu women in 2018 alone.
North Korea is known to be one of the worst persecutors of Christians, with more than 50,000 Christians imprisoned in harsh labor camps.
Eritrea, referred to by some as the “North Korea of Africa,” more than 1,000 Christians are reportedly detained and within only several months in 2019, around 300 unregistered Christians were arrested.
The report also highlights individual Christian cases, such as those of Asia Bibi who faced the death penalty in Pakistan for false blasphemy charges, and Eritrea’s Patriarch Antonios, under house arrest since 2007.
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