A tragic Easter evening at a crowded park in Lahore, Pakistan, is the latest reminder that outside of the Western world, Christianity is increasingly a targeted minority.
The Taliban faction, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the suicide attack that killed more than 70 and wounded hundreds, mostly children. More than 5,000 militants were rounded up in Pakistan and all but approximately 200 were released during the government’s investigation.
Attacks against Christians are a pattern in Pakistan in recent years. In March of 2015, for example, 14 people were killed and more than 70 injured after suicide bombers targeted two churches in Lahore, and at least 80 were killed in a church bomb attack in 2013 in the city of Peshawar.
Human-rights organizations have an uphill battle when it comes to raising Western awareness of incidents like these. David Curry, CEO of Open Doors U.S.A., part of an international organization that tracks and brings awareness of Christian persecution, sees the Western focus on persecution in America and Europe as part of the problem.
“I don’t believe most Americans have an accurate understanding of the real state of Christian persecution around the world,” says Curry. News coverage is selected according to consumer demand, he adds. “But for news consumers to clamor for such coverage, they need to be aware of the extent of the problem.”
Open Doors reports a significant increase in attacks against Christians during 2014-2015. Last year, more than 7,000 Christians were killed for their faith, which they note is “almost 3,000 more than the previous year.” The largest areas of growing Christian persecution occur in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. Those numbers are expected to scale upward.
The Center for Inquiry (CFI), an organization whose Campaign for Free Expression promotes the rights of religious and nonreligious individuals globally, has seen the same patterns. “We were the sole secular humanist organization to press the State Department to label ISIS’s crimes against Muslims and Christians as genocide,” says Paul Fidalgo, the communications director for CFI.
Open Doors agrees with the genocide assessment, noting that persecution in the Middle East and Africa, “increasingly takes the form of ethnic cleansing.”
In March, pressures from human-rights organizations finally succeeded in getting the U.S. State Department to apply this genocidal label to the Islamic State. Secretary of State John Kerry provided a laundry list of war crimes by IS that helped to secure that official condemnation, including the horrific beheading of 49 Egyptian and Ethiopian Coptic Christians in 2015.
The difficulty in addressing these human-rights violations is significantly stronger, however, when it comes to recognized states. In many countries, suppression of minority religious groups is codified in legal systems in the form of blasphemy laws. These laws serve as a means to justify and prosecute religious and nonreligious minorities. (The United States still has a few unenforceable blasphemy laws left on the books.)
A 2012 report from Pew Research shows that 22 percent of “the world’s countries and territories” have blasphemy laws, and 11 percent penalize apostasy. In many locations, punishments can result in fines, but in others, blasphemy is on par with treason and can result in death.
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