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. VinceRN

    It's fascinating to see how many here at CNN are completely in favor or persecuting Christians. Are these liberals that preach tolerance or so filled with hate and intolerance, but it's OK as long as they're intolerant of the right things.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
    • JEM

      Anyone doing time for marijuana is being persecuted by Christians. Prohibition and vice laws are Christian manifestations and the damage they do, the suffering they cause must be blamed on those who bring such laws into existence.

      Compared to the persecution of the Dark Ages, the Burning Times, what is happening to Christians in Iraq is quite minor.

      December 23, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  2. john

    Liberals hate christians even more than Muslims so Im suprised the liberal media is giving this any attention at all. I'm sure they will find a way to attack Christians verbally from these news reports. ( ie. Christians are being persecuted but they did inflict the crusades on the middle east 800 years ago)

    December 23, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
    • a

      AND YET, the 'liberal"media IS running the story, so your logic must lead you to another conclusion... AS IN.... liberals DO NOT hate Christians. Stop believing what FOX news tells you, and think for yourself. Why don't you get out and meet some of these "horrible liberals" you like to talk about. You would be surprised how many people are liberal or atheist and just don't spew it all over the place...

      December 23, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
  3. juliecp

    Christians, we must pray for those who are being persecuted... and we must all remember that we are called to love.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
    • caesar

      Yes – yes, that's right. We Christian should also all band together and curse those who tempt us with ther evil opposition. They are the Devil incarnate. Anyone who opposes you, stand up for yourselves and for Christ. Raise your weapons and your voices!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
    • juliecp

      I said nothing about raising weapons or cursing others, and I never will.

      December 23, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
    • a

      "caesar", I hope that is sarcasm.....

      December 23, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  4. frootyme

    Shame on any religion that hate others simply because their God is superior to others.
    What good is their religion if they cannot just follow simple human habits of live and let others live?

    December 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
    • a


      December 23, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
  5. Don McLaughlin

    >> Truth: There is a world conflict between civilization and Islam. It will not end until tens of millions of human
    >> beings have been incinerated.
    Well have fun people. Count me out, though; I've got no difficulties with either side and will be on the sidelines making and spreading love, tenderness and affection. 🙂

    December 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
    • a

      gross, please don't make love on the sidelines!... there are nice, private places for that!

      December 23, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
  6. Kerpluk01

    Another reason Christianity is the most discriminated religion on earth. Anytime something negative happens to a christian someone tries to justifiy why it is not a big deal. However, if a Christian commits a negative act on another religion all hell breaks loose and people try to explain why Christians are bad people. The minority of people try to run the world and feel we should cater to the needs to the minority. Think of the out roar if the US arrested someone today for being a muslim. There would be plenty of support for that person and a lack of support for the arresting officer. These muslim countries expect the US to be tolerant of them but when the shoe is on the other foot all bets are off.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  7. StevieBoy

    Ahhhhh yes! Yet again religion is at it making the world a much better place! Peace, love and joy – THANK GOD we have it! Now I'd like everyone to take out there drawing pads and give me your BEST imagined image of the Prophet Mohamed. I'm going to post them up on our cyber-refrigerator for all the world to see – in celebration of Christmas, of course!

    December 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  8. George

    Truth: There is a world conflict between civilization and Islam. It will not end until tens of millions of human beings have been incinerated.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
    • Maz

      If you are among those ten millions, than godspeed. hope that conflict rids us of ignorant dolts like you

      December 23, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
    • StevieBoy

      Awwww, Merry Christmas to you to George!!!! XOXOX

      December 23, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
    • frootyme

      Come out of your illusions, before blaming Islam or any other religion.
      Do you meant to say there was a conflict between Christian crusaders and the rest of civilizations when Christians massacred millions in Europe in the name of Christianity?

      December 23, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
    • a

      ..r u bendele?

      December 23, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  9. John

    Very politically incorrect article from CNN. Never, ever should we say that Christians are being persecuted. All other religions yes, but not Christians. That ended with the Roman lion's den.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
    • Sam

      UR right Jon! If u carry the name of Muhamed or Ahmed or El or Abd any where in ur name,,,, ur a terrorist until proven other wise!! Go to airports and ask TSA and u will see for your self, who is being persecuted!! The cheap Muslims are,, their blood worth dust!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
  10. Joseph

    This has been happening to Christians for centuries. It will keep happening till Christ comes again. Ironically, the church grows most in the areas where there is persecution or hostility towards believers.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
    • The Truth

      Till Christ comes again....hahaha...Charlie Brown will see the Great Pumpkin before you see God!!....keep believing...it makes the world a simpler place and u can ask God to fix things for u instead of u helping yourself...Amen!!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
    • caesar

      What if I were to tell you that Osama bin Laden is the manifestation of the second coming of Christ. How would you know the difference? Does your bias color blind your interpretation? Or would you condemn him a second time, just like the Jews first condemned Christ?

      December 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
    • a

      and you are repeating this from whom, who repeated it from whom, who..... when will you guys start thinking for yourselves? I'm really begining to wonder if it's a physical possibility... maybe your brain is missing something?

      December 23, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
    • Joseph

      @ The Truth. That is not what God is. He is not made from human wishes and imaginations, He is so much bigger than that. He is not a vending machine where you pay for what you want with a prayer. Unfortunately, many so-called Christians view Him like that. We don't ask Him to do stuff for us, but he knows what our actions will be before we do them.

      @caesar. A lot of stuff has to happen before Christ comes again (the antichrist, his false reign of peace, etc.). That's how I know Bin Laden isn't the second coming of Christ and how we know that all these people claiming to be Christ nowadays are frauds. Just read Revelation.

      In fact, read the whole Bible. That wouldn't be a bad idea, would it? Before you make judgements about God, read His word to mankind! I mean, it has withstood the test of time and has remained virtually the same all the way through, unlike other ancient manuscripts. Another good book: The Case For Christ, by Lee Strobel, a former athiest who became a follower of Christ after a whole bunch of investigation on his part.

      December 24, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  11. freeddoom

    because a few dozen christians are victimized ,then you call christians as a whole victims.makes perfect sense. lets see.howmany christians have been killed by moslems???howmany jews have been killed by moslems??howmany moslems have been killed by jews and christians???i bet the latter far outnumbers the first two.foir the last ten years moslems and moslem countries have been bombed day in and day out.now please tell us who is being persecuted and victimized ??? i personally hate all abrahamic cults,but this whining by christians and jews and playing the victim while doing almost all the killings is just pathetic.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
    • Sam

      Freedom, you are absolutey right. Nobody think of it that way!The whole world is bombarding and killing Muslims every day,,, children, women, elderly and those are attending weddings!! Nobody is alarmed by the millions of Muslims been killed by so called Christian countries!! It is sad for any innocent people to die, but few Christians are no more important than millions of innocent Muslims either! From Bush to Palin,,, we should blame our own selves for spreading the hatred, under the flag of the bible, which has nothing to do with that! Bankrupting our own country to kill Muslims,, pitiful! Let us act , not just talk! Happy holidays while we are killing innocent Muslim children is an empty words!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
    • StevieBoy

      Wow, some serious idiots in this chat area! The U.S. is bombing countries that harbor and produce terrorists. Those terrorists just happen to be Muslim, they are not being bombed BECAUSE

      December 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
    • StevieBoy

      ... they are Muslim, do you get that??? Of course not, you'd prefer to see it the way you do and feel sorry for yourselves as "victims" rather than accept the fact that Muslim countries are loaded with terrorist that wish nothing more than to harm those that don't see things their way – which apparently makes us all infidels and enemies of Islam. Oh well, BOMBS AWAY! Merry Christmas!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  12. frootyme

    Dump all religions!. No one is saint. Flip the pages of history and see the bloodshed committed by Christian crusaders!.
    People were better off in the stone age. No religions, no hatred. Religions have only contributed to hate.
    All religions have come from violent backgrounds.
    The more advances man kind is making with intellectualism is getting neutralized by religious zealots.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
    • caesar

      No, actually it is Darwinism. Intellectuals are selecting themselves out of the gene pool because they are antisocial, and pale in comparison to perepetuating progeny with undereducated people. See the movie Idiocracy.

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

      Also, it is believed that stone aged people had some form of supernatural beliefs... precursors of religion. It is a survival/defense mechanism. The greta thing is, once you rationalize that it isn't needed, it is very freeing. Unfortunately (as stated by Ceasar) the stupid are proliferating much faster than the intellectuals. We intellectuals create medications/science to save all the mindless masses and they give the credit to a phantom in the sky....

      December 23, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  13. Maz

    The rise in facism within Islamic countries is no fault of religion. Muslims, Christians, and Jews have been living side by side in the Middle East since roughly the 600s. Sure there has been plenty of mistrust between the three groups but never as much violence until they were colonized and Israel was created over Palestine. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and the Middle East's reaction to U.S., British, and French's invasive foreign policy has unfortunately been violent. so it goes

    December 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  14. Don McLaughlin

    >> Because religion is nothing more than a bunch of lies, half-truths, and out and out fabrications
    >> made in order to control people and make them adhere to the 'morality'
    No one should be forced to follow any spiritual path. But if religion makes someone happy why shouldn't they be allowed to follow its beliefs as long as that person doesn't force others against their will down the same path

    December 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
    • a

      agreed-please live in your own blissful ignorance and stop trying to share it with me

      December 23, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  15. Teriander2

    "Christians face rising persecution, experts say" Why does it take experts months to figure out what you and I can figure out in an hour?

    December 23, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  16. Christopher

    Overseas, yeah..... Christians are persecuted. I will be blunt on the subject however: ALL religious people should be persecuted. Why? Because religion is nothing more than a bunch of lies, half-truths, and out and out fabrications made in order to control people and make them adhere to the 'morality' (really, personal likes and dislikes) of religious leaders dating back centuries.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  17. Steve

    Christians and especially the Vatican has a duty to help and protect the Jewish people. As I learnt from a sermon from the Rabbi of my Temple the Vatican recognized the Jews continuing covenant with G-d. A few European politicians stated that it is the job of Europe to take care and protect Israel for what happened during the Holocaust in WWII.

    The first Christians were really Jews, before the two religions went their separate ways.I don't believe Jesus was the Messiah. For one, according to Jewish law, no one man can atone for the sins of an entire people. Human sacrifice is forbidden. Jesus also did not accomplish all of the required prophecies of the prophets. The Jewish people didn't return to Israel,but were instead exiled all over the world. When Jesus died, it proved that he wasn't the Messiah. Yes, there is a resurrection of the dead, but that wouldn't occur for 40 years until after the Messiah arrived. The Temple of Jerusalem has also yet to be rebuilt, a messianic prophecy that will be fulfilled after the Messiah arrives. There are many more, which would take forever to explain.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
    • a

      OK..... now I'm going to really blow your mind...

      ...the idea of a "messiah" is a construct, an invention of mankind.... there is no such thing. just hopeful thinking on the part of desperate people with a great imagination. hows them apples?

      December 23, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  18. caesar

    "God" or "Allah" is a figment of all of your feeble imaginations.
    Millions of blind followers of faith are all wrong. The world will always be filled with stupid people as a result.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • a

      which comes first? the chicken or the egg?
      I think stupid people breed religion,
      and religion promotes ignorance

      December 23, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  19. Joe

    American Christian Right is bearing large part of responsibility by pushing for Iraq war, without understanding what consequences it would bring.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  20. P'Cola

    Doesn't seem like its been that great of a year for Muslims living there as well.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:31 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.