When the State Department released its annual Report on International Religious Freedom in June detailing the status of religious freedom in countries around the world, it drew blowback from world leaders whose countries failed to receive a positive report.
Officials from India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were especially quick to criticize the State Department’s assessment of their country.
The report outlines several instances where violence has occurred against religious minorities and how Indian law enforcement has been implicated in many of the crimes.
Violence against Christians and Muslims is an ongoing problem in India—and Indian law enforcement has been reluctant to protect these religious minority communities. What’s worse is that law enforcement has often been implicated in many of the crimes committed against religious minorities. Over the past several years, it has become increasingly common for members of Hindu nationalist groups to attack Christian leaders and their ministries following false accusations that Christians are practicing forced conversions. There’s clearly religious freedom violations occurring in India, and the State Department report offers substantial evidence to confirm that.
In response to the State Department’s report, Anil Baluni, the National Media head for the BJP, defended Indian president Narendra Modi in an official statement. “The basic presumption in this report that there is some grand design behind anti-minority violence is simply false,” he stated. “Whenever needed, Mr. Modi and other BJP leaders have deplored violence against minorities and weaker sections.”
In another response to the report, a government spokesperson tersely retorted that, “India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion.”
The State Department report is not the only announcement that has put oppressive countries on the defensive. Popular news outlets are also calling out countries on the abuses levied at their people.
Recently, Pakistani leaders issued a defense of Pakistan’s treatment of religious minorities. During a recent trip to Brussels, Pakistani Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi attempted to downplay accusations of ongoing Christian persecution in Pakistan. He argued that Christians are “very welcome,” and stated, “we respect them and want them to be there.”
News reports suggest the environment for Christians in Pakistan is less than welcoming.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which prohibit speaking against Islam, are often abused and used to settle unrelated disputes. Pakistani Christians live in fear of being accused of blasphemy, which can be punishable by death.
Last week, Nigerian leaders also claimed that accusations of persecution against Christians in Nigeria was exaggerated. This is an especially bold denial when the situation in Nigeria borders on genocide.
Tens of thousands of Christians have been displaced or killed by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. Boko Haram has killed more people than ISIS, and the Fulani are armed with AK-47s. Despite the horrific violence occurring in Nigeria, when the Northern Christian Elders Forum wrote a letter to the British Parliament about the abuses suffered under the current administration, the Nigerian government was quick to retort that claims of religious persecution in Nigeria were false. Nigerian officials went so far as to trivialize the current violence by calling it a simple case of clashes between farmers and herdsman.
These incidences of world leaders denying religious freedom violations in their countries is appalling and hard to believe—yet it is actually a good sign. This shows that efforts like the State Department’s annual Report on International Religious Freedom (which calls out countries on their religious freedom violations), the upcoming Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom (which highlights the diplomatic importance of honoring religious liberty), and even reports by major news outlets are effective. The fact that state leaders don’t want their countries to be seen as countries where religious liberty isn’t protected shows the pressure that the U.S. State Department can put on countries to improve the status of religious freedom in their countries.
World leaders can deny the truth all they want, but religious freedom is only gaining ground as an issue of focus on the world stage. Soon, leaders will have to do more than deny the ongoing persecution in their countries. If regimes want to gain international legitimacy and improve their reputation, they must become known as governments which respect the freedom of their people to adhere to their conscience and protect religious minorities from harassment and violence due to their faith.
Arielle Del Turco is the Research Assistant for FRC’s Center for Religious Liberty. Luke Isbell is an intern at Family Research Council.