December 23rd, 2010
02:10 PM ET

Christians face rising persecution, experts say

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

A pastor sits on death row in Iran. His crime? Renouncing Islam  for Christianity.

A Christian mother of two faces execution in Pakistan - and a preacher  has put a price on her head in case the president pardons her. Her crime?  Insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

In Iraq, dozens of Christians lie in fresh graves. Their fatal mistake?  Going to church.

And these are not simply isolated incidents, but part of a broader  pattern, experts say.

"There does appear to be an upsurge in violence directed against  Christians," said Leonard Leo, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on  International Religious Freedom.

He says part of the problem is that "governments are not cracking down on  sectarian violence the way they should."

"We've got to have governments taking ownership of these problems and  enforcing the laws that exist," he said. Whether it's "Christians in Iraq or  Afghanistan, or Copts in Egypt, the government has to prosecute (people) and  put them in jail for killing people on account of their religion."

The problems are worst in the countries with the greatest amount of  division, he said. Anti-blasphemy and apostasy laws also are problems in some  countries, he said.

Asia Bibi, a Christian, is facing a death sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan.

The commission is particularly worried about Egypt, where plans to build  a church near Cairo sparked riots in November. A Christian was killed in  clashes with police.

That violence came on the heels of attacks on the homes and businesses of  Coptic Christians, Egypt's local Christian community, the commission said. The  burning and looting in Qena province, in southern Egypt, was sparked by rumors  of romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman, a  commission statement said.

Bad as that violence was, "the worst place of all undoubtedly is Iraq,  where there was a recent church bombing," said Nina Shea, who also sits on the  religious freedom commission.

At least 70 people died in the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in  Baghdad on October 31. Fifty-three of them were Christians.

Iraq's al Qaeda affiliate, "the Islamic State of Iraq, vowed to kill  Christians wherever they find them," Shea said.

"As the (overall) violence has decreased in Iraq, it has gone up against  the Christians," she said.

Six weeks after the church attack, the United Nations High Commission for  Refugees said it was tracking a "slow but steady exodus" of Christians from  Baghdad and Mosul, two of Iraq's major cities.

Even relatively moderate Morocco has taken action against Christians this  year, Shea says.

"Morocco expelled foreign Christians who had long been in Morocco - the  head of the George Washington  School in Casablanca, the director of an orphanage, educators - about  100 people," she said.

"That followed a petition by Muslim leaders to stop the Christian influence in Morocco," she said. "There may be some pressure from more  conservative Muslims."

"I would not say that Christians are the only target," she added. "We are  seeing it against other groups as well, Shias and Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, and  Baha'is in Iran."

But, she said, "this has been a very bad year for Christians worldwide."

Christians are one the largest religious minorities in the broader Middle East, she said, and they are a target "because they are there."

"Many of them want to stay. They have been in this region for two  millennia. They are indigenous. This religion started there," she said.

And they have a unique culture, she said.

The Chaldean Christians of Iraq still speak Aramaic, for example.

"If the Chaldeans are scattered to the four corners of the globe, the  language of Jesus will not be preserved," Shea warned. "It will die out."

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Christianity • Coptic • Egypt • Iran • Iraq • Middle East • Persecution • Religious violence • Violence

soundoff (477 Responses)
  1. steve

    sick people
    religion sucks

    December 23, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  2. Uninfidel

    Haah..poor Christians, always a victim..Oh wait, why are white Christians with big guns running around the streets of Baghdad with Bible in their bag?

    December 23, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  3. Joe

    This has been a real tragedy. For 1500 years Christians were living in Iraq in relative security only to be decimated last 10 years. This is one of the reasons US should have stayed away from there.

    Democracy in Iraq? How stupid one has to be to even think about it!

    December 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  4. Chris

    OMFG who gives a crap?!? How about you believe what you believe, and, no matter how ridiculous is surely is (as no religion is based on really real reality), we just won't speak of it? How's that grab you? You don't proselytize to me, and I won't call you out on your hypocrisy and blind faith?

    "We were talking about this at my church the other day..." I hear this phrase a lot...guess what? Could not care less about what brainwashed people talk about in church. Let's focus on real life stuff...you know, like, reality? People and trees and countries and money and violence and hunger and disease and water and space and junk? After we get this planet squared away, THEN we'll worry about whether or not an invisible cosmic Jewish zombie, who was his own father, can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master so that he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
    • a

      like it!

      December 23, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
  5. shannon

    i want to knw y it this world can one religon say anything about another , we need to live n let live we have so much prejidice that no one in the world r safe , i wanted to raise my children in a world were diffrince is wat made us unique not less than , now i have to exsplain why ppl hate ! Any religion i dnt care who says love n peace n fellowship y cant we jus let ppl belive wat they want its not up to anyone to say one is wrong for there belief , how can one sit up n say another is wrong n needs to be persecuted come on let ppl be ppl all are diffrnt n thats it man cant we all jus live nlove the diffrnces that make us who we r !

    December 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
    • a

      it's called: "freedom of speech", and "hate" is no, "new" modern invention!

      December 23, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
    • a

      It is very easy for an uneducated fool like you to spout utopian ideas like that, having no knowledge of government, education, politics, religion, history, or science. Do your kids a favor and encourage them to seek knowledge... of course the gene pool might not be there....

      December 23, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  6. Summarex

    President Hussein always protected Christians in Iraq and even invited Christians into his cabinet, What the United States did to Hussein and Iraq is unforgivable. Bush must be punished.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  7. kuwait_999

    Dear Muslim brother and sister,

    Islam is a false religion lead by a false prophet Muhammad… His teaching contain many hatred, killing, lust (against God 10 commandment). Follow Muhammad is only lead one soul to HELL. If you want your and your family soul have a life in heaven then… follow the Prince of Peace (JESUS) teaching.

    Foot note:
    Book 008, Number 3310: 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) married me when I was six years old, and I was admitted to his house when I was nine years old.

    Quran: "Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war”

    December 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  8. Dennis

    I keep looking for these so-called "Moderate Muslims" we keep hearing about.Nothing but silence from millions of Muslims throughout the world about the violence carried out in the name of their religion.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
    • Christie

      I am Catholic and my husband and his family are moderate Muslims. They are wonderful people who are incredibly kind. I have been very lucky to learn so much about Islam from them. It's sad that their religion is given a bad name by these extremists. The truth is that all religions can be twisted to justify insanity. I think the most important thing is to respect other people's beliefs. We are never going to agree with each other; however, the violence will continue if we don't learn to agree to respectfully disagree.

      December 23, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
  9. timD

    Peace will not happen until all religion is dead or all humanity is dead from fighting over religion. Religion is the man made root cause of the world's problems, just above the power hunger and greed that is underlying.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  10. peter king

    America for its fault is only great because of the people who immigrated here many fleeing religious perdicution from elsewhere. I believe we should invite once again all jews (all of israel), christians, and any other peace & frosty loving person to come here. Make our schools better, enjoy our sports, entertainment and super-walmarts. Forget these violent areas and get on a plane (delta, american, or united)

    December 23, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      And give up fighting over dirt and thought crimes, no way man, no way!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  11. Don McLaughlin

    >> Correction.."ALL religions need to be dealt with sir.. ALL religions are a cancer to this world.
    Yeah... lets make 'em all live the way you want them to live. 😉

    December 23, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  12. ernsssss24

    just watch it please....
    have a glmpse ot the past and very touching

    December 23, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  13. Don McLaughlin

    >> When other countries adopt this basic human right and hold it over the heads of the religious
    >> leaders, they can join the ranks of civilized nations
    Well there's tolerance for you...

    If that's how they want to live it is there choice. My only concern is that all those that disagree should be allowed to go somewhere and live as they believe. I have a Muslim friend who takes pride in wearing traditional Muslim dress as well as mixing religion and politics; I have another friend who wishes to live by a much different tradition. Both should be free to live as they wish.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  14. JohnQuest

    Jon, I believe we are a product of our environment, or more to the point, a byproduct of the chemical makeup of this tiny little planet we live on. What do you believe?

    December 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
    • Jon

      @JohnQuest Wow, does that sum up all what you believe? I am sure you believe in other things to be true don't you?

      If we are just a byproduct of our environment there isn't much to life – is there? And what about after life? There must be nothing to wait for. How tragic! That basically means there will be no justice for victims of injustice, oppressed, falsely accused etc who haven't received justice in their life. Also there will be no punishment to those who perpetrated crimes and escaped judgment on earth. I don't find much hope in here! And where is a basis for morality, goodness, selflessness, service and even any solid purpose in life? So there is no ultimate accountability, no ultimate justice and no ultimate purpose for anyone in your belief. How sad.

      December 23, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Life is it's own reward. The universe is an amazing place and I enjoy my existence. I treat people as I would wish to be treated - no mystery about morality there. I was raised with very little religion, but with the knowledge that there are consequences for my actions, therefore my actions are always considered. I neither need nor want an afterlife. This is enough.

      As for justice, I would prefer that it would be taken care of in this life, as I don't think there is any after. Better that people treat this planet and each other with consideration, but perhaps with the belief things will be rectified in an 'afterlife', there is less incentive to get it right in the current life. I find it sad that some people need a supernatural parent and a promise of immortality in order to behave responsibly.

      December 24, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  15. AJ

    Oh boy cry me a river!!.. Christians have persecuting and killing everyone for thousands of years that don't believe in their own invisible man theory.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
    • KBinMN

      Sure. We have the Salvation ARmy and they have terrorist training camps. One and the same, you betcha!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  16. Mark from Minnetonka, MN

    Don't forget Friday is draw a picture of Mohammad Day, Islam is a cancer that needs to be dealt with

    December 23, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
    • AJ

      Correction.."ALL religions need to be dealt with sir.. ALL religions are a cancer to this world.

      December 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
    • Maz

      No, cancer is a cancer that needs to be dealt with. But people like you, so riled up about idealogical differences, have forgotten what the real issues are. You have a 100000000% greater chance of dying at the hands of cancer than at the hands of an ordinary Muslim but you are too stupid to understand that

      December 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
  17. Richard Lionhearted

    Dictatorship by religion. It's been used for centuries. The human race will never change. A few good souls overshadowed by a few bad souls.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  18. Dave

    THis is cool.... an article like this really brings out the best in angry atheists....(are there any other kind?)..lol.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
    • Mark from Minnetonka, MN

      That was a good one Dave LOL

      December 23, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  19. ernsssss24

    just watch it please....
    have a glmpse ot the past

    December 23, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  20. John Malek

    I am a Coptic Orthodox Christian and to those who say big whoop to my brothers and sisters who are dying, I would appeal to a great sense of love. If one person were to insult the Koran or their prophet that person would surely face death as seen above. I applaud CNN for publishing this article and providing the public with a greater sense of awareness. Is it ony when our homeland is attacked by the very same radical extremists on 9/11 were we start to take greater interest? People are dyiny, a mother of two in Pakhistan (as in the article above) and dare someone say "big whoop"! These people are courageous and ithese are the real modern day heroes that inspire me. How easy is it to insult the persecuted when you are in a land with religous tolerance and freedom. Let's see how brave you would be in their shoes!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.