July 14, 2001
Freedom Still Elusive in Asia and Africa
Analysis by Aid to the Church in Need
ROME (Zenit.org) - Aid
to the Church in Need's latest report on religious freedom in the world
chides Asia and Africa for widespread persecution of beliefs.
The 423-page report refers to all violations, not just those that affect
"What is curious, is to discover that the 20th century, when so much was
said and written about respect for human rights, was the century during which
Christians suffered the worst persecutions," Attilio Tamburrini, director
of ACN's Italian branch, told the Spanish Catholic periodical Alfa y Omega.
Indonesia, China and other Communist states, Pakistan and countries of Muslim
majority are on the blacklist of the report's classification. In those
countries, people are jailed and sometimes condemned to death for their
Muslim militias in the Molucca Islands in Indonesia have systematically
massacred Christians, the report says. At the same time, the danger of the
enforcement of the Islamic law, or Shariah, continues in many Indonesian
Some positive, though hesitant, steps have been taken in recent years in Asia.
Muslim states such as Oman, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran have made progress in the
tolerance of other religions. But in general, Muslims are still banned from
converting to other religions, or non-Muslim men are barred from marrying Muslim
Africa continues to be a land of martyrdom for many Catholic missionaries. In
the Mediterranean coast there are worrying signs of persecutions against
Christians. In Nigeria, several states are adopting Islamic law. Tensions fester
between Christian and Muslim communities in the Ivory Coast and Kenya. In Sudan,
the Muslim north continues to make war on the animist tribes and Christians of
the south. Refugees who flee north are often forced to convert to Islam.
Mauritania, meanwhile, enforces a particularly rigorous version of the Shariah.
With the exception of Cuba, where the regime marginalizes Catholics, there is no
grave situation as regards religious freedom in the Americas. "Narco-guerrillas"
in Colombia, however, sometimes violently interrupt the activities of Catholic
and other Christian communities. In Mexico, the separation of church and state
no longer seems to be regarded by the authorities as a source of conflict.
Here, in the most secularized societies, lawmakers on occasion seem to repress
religions or religious movements.
French Senate, for example, on May 30 approved a controversial law against
sects. It is ambiguously worded and could be used to penalize traditional
Christian associations, especially monasteries. Prior to the approval of the
law, leaders of the French Catholic bishops' conference and the French
Protestant Federation sent a letter asking lawmakers to vote against the law.
In Eastern Europe, a statist mentality continues a legacy of the Communist past,
which regards religious freedom and association as a "concession" of
the state. This is a type of administrative marginalization, which is exercised
in the majority of cases by imposing bureaucratic conditions on the registration
of Churches and religious communities, or the construction and restitution of
churches which were expropriated by force during the decades of totalitarianism.
In territories of the Russian Federation, "the Russian Orthodox Church is
trying to attain the (informal) status of state religion," the report
reveals. It attempts to achieve this objective by exerting pressure on the
government and local authorities so that they will not recognize
"nontraditional" religions, which are used to persecution. The former
Soviet republics at times also repress Islam.
Chechnya, however, is the symbol of another current, which seeks aggressive
penetration of Islam, something which the Russian state reacts to, as evidenced
in the current war, with military attacks on civilian communities.
However, there is good news from Switzerland. On June 10, a popular referendum
confirmed last December's federal decree, which allows new Catholic dioceses to
be formed without government approval. The law only affects the Church loyal to
Rome, and not other Christian confessions. This norm, dating back to the 1874
Federal Constitution, was the last conflict that confronted the state and the