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. Jackie Wu

    God I hate how Christians come in and start talking about the the bible and crap. Jeez we don't really give a flying @#$% about what is in it. Stop preaching no one cares.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
    • a

      thank-you, Wu, I couldn't have said it better.... Unfortunately the "reasoning" lobe of their brains was lobotomized....

      December 23, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
    • Just My Opinion

      I promise I won't preach to you Jackie 😉 , but this is a blog on religion (religion dot blogs dot cnn) .With that being said, people are going to "come in" and speak about religion and things that pertain to it. Things such as the Bible and what's in it. My intention is not to be offensive, I'm just stating a fact.

      December 23, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
    • gg

      Well Jackie "a" cares. He/she has been on here for two hours preaching there is no God. A man of science like he/she claims, has no scientic evidence the God does not exist. He/she is only trying to spread his/her own faith here.

      December 23, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
    • a

      Just because you don't know why/how something happens/exists, doesn't mean you should make up a story about it... ie:religion/faith... OF COURSE I have no proof god doesn't exist and you have no prof that god does exist. And don't give me that BS about your proof being a "feeling". The mind is a powerful thing...chemicals/hormones/endorphins can create feelings you may misconstrue as "fact". I challenge you to try and learn to know the difference between emotion and reality....

      December 23, 2010 at 10:03 pm |
    • a

      I am proud to say, I have NO FAITH... I believe in facts, only. It's very freeing, you should try it. I have walked in your shoes, try walking in mine.....

      December 23, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
    • a

      I'm sorry, I mean to say I believe in "evidence" only. I guess my "two hours" spent blogging, here, is beginning to take it's toll:) It's been fun, though. A nice break to a busy day raising three great, smart, tolerant atheist kids and living in marital bliss with my atheist husband!

      December 23, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
    • ybs

      a, hope to see you around! happy holidays! 🙂

      December 23, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  2. lionel from Nigeria

    This is it, there is a difference between carrying the name "christian" and following the teachings of christianity. The problem is this, in times past from around the middle ages everyone living in Europe and later on in America was defined as a christian, because those countries were allegedly christian, a large portion of does people had never had the divine experience of being born again that is having a personal relationship with Jesus. Let me summarize my point, living in a christian country and going to church does not make you a christian in the same way that staying in a garage does not make you a car. I Challenge any one to come in contact with real Christians i mean the ones to whom Christianity is not just a tag you get for living in a christian country you will know the difference between the real deal and the millions of imposters and imposter churches we have running around in the world today.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
    • a

      Yes, those "real" Christians are the ones we should be most afraid of, and the others are just aiding the problem of having the former exist. I lived with you "born agains" for 18 years and couldn't wait to get the hell out of your crazy-ass "dodge"

      December 23, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
    • ybs

      so when you think we'll get rid of in-your-face things like, "in god we trust," "so help me god," etc.? 🙂

      December 23, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  3. truth

    There's no need to debate any further on whosright and whos wrong. when its all over every true unashamed believer will live in the glory of God forever, and all the ignorant sh!t talking people who are so sadly mistaken or misinformed will bow before the LORD and then choke on the burning bullsh!t of their proud words in he!! forever. i personally cant wait! enjoy this place while u still can suckas!

    December 23, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
    • a

      How sweet and Christ-like you are!

      December 23, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
    • ybs

      You will have a chance to watch your god suck mine! I'll give him all the love & cuuuumpassion you dissed out.

      One more thing you could look forward to! 🙂

      December 23, 2010 at 10:58 pm |
  4. Just My Opinion

    We always blame one another for the evils of the world (i.e. “It’s those dang [Muslim/Christians/Blacks/Whites/rich/poor] people”). Maybe we do this because we are attempting to block out the truth. No one wants to believe that a ‘normal’ human being is capable of atrocities. In order to block this fearful truth out of our psyches, we make up labels that separate “US” from “THEM”. Newsflash: We – mankind – are them.

    Religion is like knowledge; it can be used for fulfillment or destruction. Some choose to use it for good, others for bad. In my opinion, that does not make religion the culprit. If someone gets beat to death with a baseball bat, do you call for the boycott of all baseball bats? No! The bat itself is not to blame; it’s the individual who chooses to use the bat as a weapon who is at fault.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
    • a

      ...So we should deduce that religious fanatics are insane, murdering, malicious deviants... I agree!

      December 23, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
    • Just My Opinion

      @a: What we should infer is that extremist are insane. You don’t have to say “religious fanatics”. Religion isn’t the problem in my eyes, fanatics are. By the way, fanatics come in all shapes and sizes (even non-religious ones).

      December 23, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
  5. merry christmas

    Good luck on all of your religion abolishing conquests. You are all crazy. I cannot even believe some of the dumb responses on here. Freedom of religion is one the amazing attributes of our country, however flawed it may be. It should disturb people that christians are being slaughtered, just as it should disturb us when anyone else is being unjustly murdered.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
    • Just My Opinion

      Wow...what an adult comment. I didn't think you people still existed. You make an excellent point, "it should disturb us when anyone...is being unjustly murdered."

      December 23, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
    • a

      Yes, ANYONE
      happy winter break!

      December 23, 2010 at 8:44 pm |
  6. Patrick

    CNN doesn't want to come out and say it but I have no problem saying it. The only place where any one from any religion is threatened is in muslim countries...the religion of peace and tolerance. Obviously there is nothing tolerant about islam, not in its country of origin or the entire region for that matter. Pakistan, Saudi, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, north Africa...all muslim dominated countries or regions where christians are obviously not welcome, are you telling me that every muslim in these areas is an extremist? Or is it possible that everyday muslims just aren't tolerant of any religion other than islam? That lack of tolerance is why muslims often don't assimilate into other cultures and congregate together...to keep from associating with others not like them..."non-believers". And oddly enough, I have yet to EVER hear an imam speak out against this. Not once. And before anyone starts with the "are you qualified" speel. Having studied international politics and religion in college, having lived and traveled extensivly overseas to include the middle east for the past 10 years, yes...I am more than qualified to make the above statements.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
    • caesar

      whatever dude...
      liberal rhetoric.
      Bomb 'em all to hell!

      December 23, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
  7. amanda

    *sorts not posts. Sorry typo.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:11 pm |
  8. Karianez

    Most all comments on this have been hateful half-truths someone has googled up the info to make a point that the other is wrong. Amazing.

    People are being targeted and killed due to a religous belief...which is a definition of genocide (google that)...and all you people can do is fight and argue like children.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:11 pm |
    • a

      exactly! you're right.

      December 23, 2010 at 8:41 pm |
  9. Silas Scarborough

    As demographics turn around, Christians are probably going to wish they had behaved a little better.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:11 pm |
  10. kat

    Wow. It is two days before a holiday that should, at the
    very least, make people ever so slightly more compassionate and thoughtful. The apathy and insensitivity on this page is disgusting. Call me an optimist for believing that people might have would have a slightly higher regard for human life around the holidays.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
    • caesar

      ha ha.. ahem..
      yur kidding right?

      December 23, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
    • Agnostic

      To Kat. Who's holiday is in 2 days? There's alot of people on line as well as around the world who will not share your holiday in "2" days you speak of. this is what I mean by religion is bad for people.

      December 23, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
    • a

      Who said the winter break was based on compassion and thoughtfulness? I'm that way all year around-you should be too... especially the "thoughtful" part. Please, DO THINK!

      December 23, 2010 at 8:40 pm |
    • kat

      I'm sorry if you do not celebrate Christmas in even its most secular form. I mean not to group you in with millions of people who do. What I am merely saying is this: we are in a season where people listen to music about good cheer, peace on earth, and helping those in need. I was astonished to see all the "serves them right" comments on here. I suppose it is everyone's right to believe that and maybe even wish such terrible harm onto someone else, but I did expect more. No religion is perfect and every group of people, no matter how noble the cause, has made serious mistakes. No one deserves to die a horrible death for believing in a certain set of doctrine. Have some compassion people. BTW, I do "think". I studied sociology and religion for 19 years. I apologize that my comments were founded on sentiment as opposed to wikipedia and childhood presumptions.

      December 23, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
  11. amanda

    for all you who said peace is impossible while religion exists, its not the religion that is the problem, its the followers who twist the religion into hate. Every religion has its dark murderous or hate filled past. We are all guilty. But you are wrong about the other meaning of the statement, one day, VERY soon, peace and religion will exist together, when THE prince of peace returns- the Lord God, Jesus Christ and posts out his sheep from the goats. God bless you all.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
    • a

      But, religion IS the problem, because it sets the stage and creates a platform for all you sheep to "baaaa" in unison, create a fervor of idiotic notions, and create war/death/havoc. And that's exactly what is happening. Atheists aren't fighting a war... it's all you religious nuts who are doing it. "Gruff Gruff"

      December 23, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
  12. aroth

    Sounds like a bit of delayed karmic justice, to me.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
  13. David S.

    This is article is complete bs, rising persecution in a few cases. Christians have and are still living peacefully alongside Jews and Muslims everywhere in the world expect places where there is violence affecting everybody. You go to the Middle East, and Christians and their next door neighbors actually love one another. Criminals will be criminals and won't understand tolerance regardless of faith. South Asia has a history of persecuting the minority whether it may be Muslims in India or Christians in Pakistan. Than again Muslim groups within Pakistan are also persecuted by the majority = unstable region without proper knowledge of Islam and how one should conduct towards people of other faiths. A few cases of persecution does not mean all are corrupt.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  14. caesar

    This article might as well be an announcement for all Christians on deck – uncle Sam wants you!
    We must be running short on volunteers, time for a draft.
    All of our little ones are too fat, dumb, and lazy, and only interested in video games.

    December 23, 2010 at 8:05 pm |
  15. whats up

    We should protect all Christians throughout the world and send all the backward Muslim monkeys out of Christian Western countries. They smell anyway!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
    • caesar

      What if you were fighting from a trench with a fellow Muslim (African American) citizen (who happened to smell). Would you shoot him too?

      December 23, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  16. MarkYelka

    Religion will be the end of us all. Islam is the current evil.

    December 23, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  17. Pakistani Christian!

    @honlincoln, i don't know whether to laugh at your comment or what but you are so full of S..&(*#..., you will be the first one to be begging on your knees that please, please take me out of this sharia law!..... get a life man!

    December 23, 2010 at 7:55 pm |
  18. ernsssss24


    December 23, 2010 at 7:54 pm |
  19. wow

    Correction: ALL religions should unite against those who do bad things in the name of their religion

    December 23, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
    • a

      So.... all you "normal" religious people should band together and kill all the religious people who YOU deem "fanatics". Then you will feel empowered, and in turn become the fanatics. Where does it all end? Don't you see the big picture?

      December 23, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
    • ybs

      wow, you know how to perform a Hari Kari? What are you waiting for?

      December 23, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  20. Pakistani Christian!

    @ahmed..... thats what muslims deserve, they start killing people first, and then complains that why now someone is taking stand against them..... thats how you muslims are since 1400 years.

    December 23, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
    • a

      "He hit me first!"
      "No, YOU did!"
      "NO, YOU did!"
      NO, YOU DID!!"

      December 23, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
    • ybs

      a, good one!

      December 23, 2010 at 10:49 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.