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Interview

March 28, 2001

Report to Outline Violations of Religious Liberty

About 10% of Christians Suffer, Official Says

ROME (Zenit.org) - Amid ongoing violations of religious liberty in the world, the Catholic organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) plans to publish a third "Report on Religious Liberty in the World" in May.

Quoting "missiometrics" professor David B. Barrett, of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, ACN's Gyula Orban said that "approximately 10% of the 2 billion Christians in the world suffer persecution. This means that some 200 million Christians suffer harsh repercussions because of their religion."

Achille Tamburrini, ACN's Italian director and promoter of the publication of this report, explained to ZENIT that "the objective is to create a permanent observatory on the state of religious liberty in the world. Our analysis does not only affect Christians but the whole human community. On several occasions, John Paul II has reiterated that the right to liberty is not something that affects a particular confession; it is a natural right that affects all men."

--ZENIT: What criteria do you use to record violations of this fundamental right?

--Tamburrini: According to our analysis, the right to religious experience comes before the choice of a religious confession, because it is a natural right, so there is no political authority that can prohibit it. The three components of this right, ratified by the United Nations, are freedom of choice; freedom to practice worship and educate one's children according to one's religious convictions; freedom to maintain relations, at the national and international levels, with those who share the same religious creed. ...

[Violations] range from phenomena of intolerance to cases of persecution and martyrdom.

--ZENIT: What have been the clearest cases of violation of religious liberty in the past year?

--Tamburrini: In particular, we have been witnesses of the growth of persecutions in India, Sudan, Indonesia, East Timor and Egypt.

--ZENIT: Sometimes it is said that, with the end of the Communist bloc, Muslim fundamentalism is the great enemy of religious liberty.

--Tamburrini: In the Muslim realm, a distinction must be made between countries that have turned their back on revolutions of a socialist character -- such as Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco -- where there is a certain tolerance, and countries where governments suffer the pressure of fundamentalist groups.

For example, in Egypt there are disagreeable incidents, which are not instigated by the government, but the police are afraid to intervene, lest they suffer fundamentalists' reprisals.

--ZENIT: So the great danger comes from impassioned Muslims.

--Tamburrini: No. We also have the countries we group in the red area. Although the Berlin Wall has fallen, there are still 1.4 billion people living under Communist regimes. Here we have China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Korea and Cuba. There is not much talk about Vietnam, but Catholics live in a terrible condition.

The situation in China has worsened notably. Beijing has adopted legislation of a broad, anti-religious character, typical of Communist regimes. The severity of the law depends on how it is implemented. We have places where
Christians of the clandestine Church can frequent the parishes, celebrate Mass, and meet; whereas in other places, only 500 kilometers away, they end up in prison for these reasons.

This creates a constant state of uncertainty of the law. Christians, like all other citizens, never know if they can do certain things. Any person can be arrested and disappear at any moment.

Christians in Cuba are in the same situation. Over the past year, the situation in the Caribbean country has become much more rigid, perhaps because the moment for the transition of power is approaching.

--ZENIT: In addition to Muslim fundamentalism and Communist regimes, what else does the forthcoming report include?

--Tamburrini: There continue to be zones of conflict, especially in Africa, where the problem does not stem from specific, organized persecutions, but from war situations.

Missionaries in the black continent are killed especially because they are annoying witnesses. In times of conflict, humanitarian organizations leave the territory; missionaries, however, do not abandon their faithful. Thus, sometimes the different factions at war target Christians in their attacks, because the [latter] report the news and denounce injustice.

--ZENIT: What do you hope to accomplish with the report, to denounce injustices?

--Tamburrini: Our first objective is to make violations of rights known and, in this way, organize a network of assistance. A denunciation, on its own, is sterile. One of the objectives we are pursuing is to mobilize Christians and lay people of good will to exert pressure on the political world. We would like economic agreements with certain countries to stipulate the condition that human rights will be respected.

For more information on Aid to the Church in Need, see: http://www.kirche-in-not.org.

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