My Take: What real persecution looks like
Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American citizen imprisoned in Iran, is seen with his family.
April 3rd, 2013
06:00 AM ET

My Take: What real persecution looks like

Editor's Note: Nina Shea is the director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute and one of the authors of "Persecuted: the Global Assault on Christians."

By Nina Shea, Special to CNN

(CNN)–In September 2005, a middle-aged woman was taken by state security officials from her home in North Korea’s North Pyongan Province. She was put under arrest and taken to a local farm, where government officials had assembled in the threshing area to carry out her punishment. The sole civilian witness eventually fled to South Korea and reported what unfolded next to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights. As he told the private human rights group, “Guards tied her head, her chest, and her legs to a post, and shot her dead.” He added, “I was curious why she was to be shot. Somebody told me she had kept a Bible at her home.”

Merely having the Christian Scriptures, which likely were smuggled across the border from China, put the unknown woman under suspicion of converting to Christianity, and perhaps even sharing her new faith with others. Our research, drawn from United Nations studies, U.S. governmental sources, newspaper accounts and documentation from churches, think tanks and human rights groups, found that in North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, Christian conversion is treated as a capital crime or otherwise severely punished.

The right of conversion, as long as it is not forced, is an integral part of the fundamental human right to religious freedom. Yet, as we document in our new book, "Persecuted," in many countries, in various parts of the world, and stemming from various motives, religious conversion draws horrific reprisals.

In his report to the United Nations General Assembly last year, the U.N. special rapporteur on religious freedom, Heiner Bielefeldt, found that “[c]ountless reports of grave violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief relate to converts and those who try to convert others by means of noncoercive persuasion.”

Persecution for conversion to Christianity – a faith with the “Great Commission” to share the Gospel - is rising globally, along with persecution of some very long-established, even 2000-year-old, Christian communities. Persecution typically happens in places where Christians are a minority, where communist ideology still holds sway, in the Muslim world, or where conversion is seen as a threat to national identity.

Iran is a prime example of the growing number of states that harshly punish converts for apostasy from Islam. In January, the Rev. Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American citizen, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment in Tehran’s brutal Evin Prison for his own conversion, as well as for his ministry with Iran’s burgeoning underground evangelical churches. Another Christian pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, who was first jailed in 2009 and sentenced to death, was released from prison earlier this year after international pressure.

In September 2012, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, said “scores of other Christians appear to remain in detention for freely practicing their religion,” and that over the past two years more than 300 Christians have been arrested and detained arbitrarily in Iran. These arrests result from accusations of proselytizing.

In Egypt, perceived apostates face many difficulties. In January, an Egyptian court sentenced Nadia Mohamed Ali and her seven children to 15 years imprisonment for reconverting to Christianity. Born a Christian, Nadia converted to Islam in order to marry a Muslim man; after his death, she returned to Christianity and ran into trouble when she had the family's official identity cards changed to reflect this.

Saudi Arabia requires all its nationals be Muslims and can punish apostasy with beheading. Christian converts also risk honor killings, being murdered by their relatives. In 2008, Gulf News reported that Fatima Al-Mutairi was “burned to death and her tongue had been cut out” by her Saudi father, a religious policeman, after her brother discovered a photo of a cross on her computer screen.

A 2012 study by the Washington based Pew Research Center found that proselytism, or talking about one’s faith to others, was specifically restricted by central or local governments in 66 countries.

An example occurred on March 10, 2013, in Libya, where Ezzat Hakim Atallah, a 45-year-old Coptic Christian from Egypt, was reported tortured to death with electric shocks by security police in order to exact a confession of proselytizing. Five other Copts detained with him remain jailed.

Though India is renowned for its religious pluralism, various states in India, influenced by Hindu nationalists, have anti-conversion laws. Ostensibly to protect against coerced conversion from Hinduism, some are so vaguely worded that even spiritual benefits or charity work could be deemed illegal inducements. The worst abuses occur when, stirred by their local political and religious leaders, Hindu mobs riot against entire Christian families or villages. In fact, around the world, the Pew Research study finds generally that social hostilities are 2.5 times higher when governments limit conversion.

Vietnam’s leaders seem to view converting to Christianity in northwest provinces among the Hmong and in the Central Highlands among various ethnic tribes to be a security threat. In addition to suffering beatings and imprisonment and having their homes torn down and property confiscated, some converts there have been forced to “reconvert” to traditional practices of ancestor worship.

Converts to various other faiths are persecuted as well, usually by the same forces that punish Christian conversion. Members of the Bahai faith, a religion that acknowledges a prophet after Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, are deprived of all constitutional rights in Iran and their entire leadership is serving a 20-year sentence. Similarly, the Ahmadi Muslim community is targeted under blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Converting others to Islam is punished in parts of India by Hindu nationalists. Koranists in Egypt and outspoken moderate Muslims in Saudi Arabia are persecuted for their unorthodox beliefs.

The U.N.’s Bielefeldt concludes that persecution for conversion has become a “human rights problem of great concern.”

Couched in U.N. diplomatic language, this is a sound of alarm. Recent decades have seen the rapid global spread of Christianity and many thousands of Asians and Africans who are choosing to become Christians are paying a very steep price.

It is time that the West, including Western Christians, end their indifference and recognize this for what it is: an egregious human rights violation.

We must raise our voices for those facing the executioner’s sword, detention camps or other atrocities for their beliefs just as we do for other human rights victims. As the Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in opposing Nazi persecution, had once reminded his fellow Germans: “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nina Shea.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Uncategorized

soundoff (583 Responses)
  1. zeke inouye

    Elijah. if you, thought Jane`s article is surprising, last tuesday I bought a top of the range Lotus Elan since I been bringin in $7168 thiss month and-more than, ten k this past month. it's certainly the best work I've ever had. I began this 3 months ago and straight away began to earn more than $85 per hour. I work through this website.......... ZOO80. ℂom

    April 6, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
  2. mzh

    So is one whose chest Allah has expanded to [accept] Islam and he is upon a light from his Lord [is he like one whose heart rejects it]? Then woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah. Those are in manifest error. – Al Quran 39:22

    I ask this brother in Mankind that it is very unfortunate that Allah The Almighty guided you to be born and raised in a Muslim family and put lights upon you and then you decides to reject Islam... according this above verse you are in clear error... also it individual who chose to be what they want to be as everyone is given this free will... but we all will be standing in front of The Lord Almighty for accountability of the use of this 'Free Will'...

    April 6, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  3. True Love


    April 6, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • True Love

      come close,
      and listen to the story
      about a love
      more faithful than the morning

      the father gave his only son
      just to save us

      the earth was shaking in the dark
      all creation felt the fathers broken heart
      tears were filling heavens eyes
      the day that true love died
      the day that true love died

      when blood and water hit the ground
      walls we couldn't move came crashing down
      then we were free and made alive
      the day that true love died
      the day that true love died

      search your heart
      you know you can't deny it
      loose your life,
      just so you can find it

      the father gave his only son
      just to save us

      the earth was shaking in the dark
      all creation felt the fathers broken heart
      tears were filling heavens eyes
      the day that true love died
      the day that true love died

      when blood and water hit the ground
      walls we couldn't move came crashing down
      then we were free and made alive
      the day that true love died
      the day that true love died

      now, jesus is alive
      jesus is alive
      jesus is alive
      jesus is alive
      jesus is alive
      oh, he is alive
      he rose again

      when blood and water hit the ground
      walls we couldn't move came crashing down
      then we were free and made alive
      the day that true love died
      now jesus is alive

      oh, jesus you're alive

      come close,
      and listen to the story

      April 6, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • SOMETHING FROM NOTHING ? [OFFICIAL] Richard Dawkins & Lawrence Krauss


      April 6, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • pothead

      O my true love please hand me a barf bag

      April 16, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  4. biggles

    God can not be eliminated from any where no matter what any one does. He is everywhere from the highest heaven, to the lowest hell. There is no place beyond the reach of his love.

    April 5, 2013 at 11:39 pm |
  5. biggles

    W/o the restraining influence of Christians, immorality would doom the world in no time.

    April 5, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Who else would burn the witches, if it weren't for christians? Who else would enforce bigotry and misogyny?

      April 6, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • Elliott Carlin

      Biggles...o we'd have the atheists to take care of that. Just read the blogs here...we all know what a wonderful world it would be with you, the Hitlers, Maoists and Stalins.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  6. biggles

    God haters are stunningly hilarious.

    April 5, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Which god? Zeus? Do you hate Zeus?

      Personally, I don't hate gods because hating imaginary beings is rather silly.

      April 6, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  7. lol??

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Why would A&A's hang on a belief blog if they weren't jokin'????.,.

    April 5, 2013 at 12:02 pm |
    • ..

      Why do you never have a point????.,.

      April 5, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
  8. Terri

    Unfortunately, the West is far too busy eliminating God from every aspect of daily life to pay attention to those who recognize their desperate need of Him.

    April 4, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Wow. Have you just not been paying attention, or are you really just being dishonest?

      April 4, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • Pepperpot Waitress

      I'm going with "not paying attention". Nobody can be this disingenuous.

      April 4, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • Lisa

      You could be just as easily be complaining that western women have moved away from their dependance upon men. Great if you can only feel happy having a man to take care of you, your choice, but some of us don't feel that way, and the same goes for God. If believing in him does something for you, great, but don't go saying that everyone needs him whether they realize it or not.

      April 5, 2013 at 8:16 am |
    • allfaith

      The only truth is 'ALL THAT IS'. There is no need to either defend or attack whaf 'is'. Acceptance and inclusion are what you are debating.

      April 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • Truth.

      Anyone with a different viewpoint than "hawaiiguest" is being dishonest. (in his head only)

      April 5, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      You should change your name. Do you even realize how deep religion has its hooks into many aspects of Western life, even where it doesn't belong? Do you realize how often Christians want to push their belief on to everyone else in exclusionary, divisive ways? Or does thinking about those kinds of things just ruin the lovely rhetoric you've decided to stick to no matter what?

      April 5, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
    • biggles

      Amen. We as a culture are so sick, we think it is a woman's right to privacy that justifies tearing her baby to shreds. Most killers kill in private. They get locked up, too, if caught.

      April 5, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  9. Reality

    Persecution comes in many forms and can be exercised by many religious and non-religious:

    To wit:

    The Twenty (or so) Worst Things/Persecutions GOD'S CREATURES Have Done to Each Other:

    M. White, http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u (required reading)

    The Muslim Conquest of India

    "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

    Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..(Religions/Groups involved)*

    1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

    2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

    3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

    4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

    5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

    6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

    7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

    8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

    9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

    10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

    11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

    12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

    13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

    14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

    15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

    16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

    17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Christians)

    18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

    19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

    20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

    *:" Is religion responsible for more violent deaths than any other cause?

    A: No, of course not – unless you define religion so broadly as to be meaningless. Just take the four deadliest events of the 20th Century – Two World Wars, Red China and the Soviet Union – no religious motivation there, unless you consider every belief system to be a religion."

    Q: So, what you're saying is that religion has never killed anyone.

    A: Arrgh... You all-or-nothing people drive me crazy. There are many doc-umented examples where members of one religion try to exterminate the members of another religion. Causation is always complex, but if the only difference between two warring groups is religion, then that certainly sounds like a religious conflict to me. Is it the number one cause of mass homicide in human history? No. Of the 22 worst episodes of mass killing, maybe four were primarily religious. Is that a lot? Well, it's more than the number of wars fought over soccer, or s-ex (The Trojan and Sabine Wars don't even make the list.), but less than the number fought over land, money, glory or prestige.

    In my Index, I list 41 religious conflicts compared with 27 oppressions under "Communism", 24 under Colonialism, 2 under "Railroads" and 2 under "Scapegoats". Make of that what you will."

    April 4, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  10. Bill

    "God hates f a g s!"

    That is what persecution looks like.

    April 4, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Akira

      Since gays are born that way, why would God make gays that way? What's His agenda?

      April 4, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  11. Saraswati

    I’m glad that this article focuses on real persecution, but I think people would be far more inclined to listen to these arguments and stories if they weren't still presented in this "Christians are the specially persecuted" bias. Anyone who has an eye on the news knows that in the countries being discussed conversion to ANYTHING except the state religion is persecuted. In many Islamic countries right now Buddhism is a prime target. And yes, anyone who reads the news is aware of these situations. But presenting Christians as somehow special cases is only going to focus more scrutiny on the whiny persecution complex of that religion’s adherents. Try getting over yourselves and recognizing how humans, including Christians, treat minorities and then get back to us.

    April 4, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Akira

      *Golf clap*
      Well said.

      April 4, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
    • Akira

      Are you ignorant what a golf clap is, lol?? Quiet applause.
      And yes, I'm female, Pat.
      Embrace your androgeny, lol??
      God loves you anyway, although His patience with your rampant stupidity is getting thin.

      April 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
  12. the AnViL™

    it's important to remember – the Salvation Army – is an xian organization.

    the more you know.

    April 4, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • Larry

      The Sally Ann is the Christian group that I most admire and appreciate.

      April 4, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
  13. Kee

    Awesome video on God and his creation


    April 4, 2013 at 10:52 am |
  14. myweightinwords

    Whenever the subject of persecution comes up, there is inevitably an inequity in understanding what the word actually means.

    For it to be persecution, those doing the persecuting have to have some manner of power or authority over those being persecuted, even if that is only the power of numbers. Thus, overall in the US today, Christians are not persecuted. They are the majority. They hold vast amount of authority and influence over public opinion. HOWEVER, in other places, where they are a minority, it is entirely possible that they are persecuted.

    It is NOT persecution to demand equal rights, nor to expect you to not trample my rights in the execution of your own. You have the right to free speech and the right to religion. I have the right not to listen to you and the right to disagree with you.

    Conversation, even argument, isn't persecution. Passing laws that deny someone a basic civil right is persecution.

    There is very real persecution taking place in the world today. Against Christians. Against Jews. Against Atheists. Against gay people. And it's wrong in every instance. To compare someone disagreeing with you on the internet to their situation by using the word persecution is a disgusting display of privilege.

    April 4, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Akira

      You are absolutely correct.
      Too many people misinterpret the term to mean "oh, I can't be as hateful to people as I want to be; I'm being persecuted!"
      Fantastic post.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  15. sam stone

    wh = why

    April 4, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  16. John 3:16


    April 4, 2013 at 10:04 am |
    • Indeed!


      April 4, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • Larry

      Ever watch Kick A$$? You can get child actors to say ANYTHING!

      April 4, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • frank

      All you have to do is dangle a few chicken nuggets in front of them, Larry.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • Larry

      Chicken nuggets and greedy parents. I can just imagine how eager these kid's parents were to have them "testify" like this. You might get a kid who genuinely is passionate about a cause every now and then, but not a whole room full of them like this. Reminds me of the movie Marjo.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • the AnViL™

      this is child abuse – plain and simple.

      the parents are criminals and should be treated as such.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:54 am |
    • Larry

      No more than kids singing songs about Santa, or the Easter Bunny.

      April 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  17. the AnViL™

    it's important to remember – the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan – is an xian organization.

    the more you know.

    April 4, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Kee

      Martin Luther King, Jr was a Christian.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • Akira

      I wasn't aware that MLK JR had anything to do with the KKK.
      I don't think that was the point. The KKK persecutes. THAT was the point.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Larry

      Martin Luther, whose antisemetic ideas were Hitler's inspiration, was also a Christian. So was Hitler himself, and a whole lot of other dictators.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:24 am |
    • Kee

      Yea – true.

      The Lutheran church has apologized for some of Martin Luther's writings. Martin Luther King, JR was an emotional wreck toward the end of his life – he looked as stressed out as Christopher Hitchens (chain smoking and heavy drinking will do that).

      This has more to do with them being human beings. Not because they were Christians. In my opinion. There is no Christan that is free from flaws, failures or imperfections. We are a broken people. Just like everyone else.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:30 am |
    • Larry

      If Christianity doesn't make any appreciable improvement in people's behavior, why bother? For the chance at getting into Heaven? That's a pretty selfish thing to adopt all these bigoted att.itudes for, isn't it? I'd rather be non bigoted, and take my chances rather than knowingly hurt people by choosing a belief that happens to say it's OK to.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Kee

      My behavior and actions have improved since becoming a Christian. I honestly can't speak for anyone else but myself. But I do know others like me.

      I don't worship Christianity, Christians, history or the Bible. I worship God. God asks me to treat people in a loving manner. Especially those who I despise and those who despise me.

      But I am very human. Just like everyone else. And like most (but not all) people I am trying to do the best I can.

      Every group of people has it undesirables – for Christians it can be the KKK. For atheists it can be a Jeffrey Dahmer. I think we should find what works for us. For me it is making conscious contact with our creator – and living in response to that.

      April 4, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Jeffrey Dahmer was Born Again in prison – just sayin'.

      April 4, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • Larry

      I use to be really bigoted, especially against gays, but I'm not anymore. I credit that improvement on quitting Christianity although I provably learned most of my other morals when I was. I can't say.

      You may not worship the Bible, but it ultimately is the source of your love of God. If God is real he may be quite different from the Bible version of himself, one you might not like so much. So, if you are committed to loving Bible God then it's actually the book you're holding sacred, right?

      April 4, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Kee

      The Bible is helpful to me. It points to God. Not to something in the past, but to something here today. Right now.

      April 4, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Kee

      Some believe we have better access to God than the people in the biblical times. Moses might envy what I have – God living within me.

      April 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • Larry

      You think that you have a closer relationship to God than the guy who literally spoke to him personally? I'd be willing to bet that millions of Jews would find your claim quite egotistical.

      The only thing in the Bible that looks to the present is the Messiah/Second Coming prediction, but even that's almost 2000 years too late for anyone beyond a dreamer to take seriously. The rest of that book is just the values of a culture long gone with very little to teach us nowadays. No more than the works of Virgil, or Homer.

      April 4, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
  18. William Demuth

    So I guess Aushwitz, Jonestown, Wounded Knee and Salem weren't persecution?

    The Christian cult has high score on the "Blood On The Hands" meter.

    Their degenerate tentacles have been at the heart of the worls worst religious attrocities

    Luckily, Christianity has met its match, the Internet.

    April 4, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • NClaw441

      It looks like the writer was describing persecution from her perspective. I don't think she mentioned anything about other situations as NOT being persecution.

      April 4, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Larry

      Even though it wasn't a massacre, don't forget McCarthyism. Lots of innocent people had their lives ruined by this witch hunt.

      April 4, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  19. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog-

    How to end all the stupidity :

    Putting the kibosh on all religions in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    April 4, 2013 at 7:51 am |
  20. Woof

    My theory is that the preacher guy couldn't stand what all that plastic surgery and botox did to his wife's face, and he paid the Iranians to say they imprisoned him.

    April 4, 2013 at 2:42 am |
    • Rob

      That is just plain tacky and crude. Believer or not why would you choose to be so cruel? Do you think it funny or witty? Just sad and pathetic.

      April 4, 2013 at 8:31 am |
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About this blog

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.