By Deborah Laker/The Washington StandJuly 06, 2022
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From Nigerian villages devastated by Fulani militia to Afghans fleeing the Taliban, religious oppression is a global crisis. International Christian Concern, a nonpartisan human rights organization, unveiled their 2022 Persecutor of the Year Awards report, shedding light on the atrocities men and women of faith face around the world.
Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, presented a 150-page report on the plight of persecuted Christians. The report documents world's top 16 persecutors of Christians across the globe within the last year, breaking them down by country, entity, and individuals and naming one dubious "winner" in each of the three categories.
"This report isn't a list of sad, small statistics happening somewhere in the world, far-removed from us," King explained. "Many of these are mass human rights violations -- with some approaching genocide. Religious freedom is an issue that affects people of all faith and is a key driver in political freedom.
Our report documents actual, ongoing religious persecution that is consistently ignored by major media and barely touched by our comfortable churches in the United States. This report is a wakeup call to churches in the West and a challenge to know the truth and act on it."
The Persecutor of the Year Awards are a culmination of analyzed data, victim interviews, and reviewed global trends on Christian persecution by 50 international ICC staff members and their massive network of contacts. The meeting was held at the International Religious Freedom Summit at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Washington D.C.
Afghanistan Named Persecutor of the Year
In the country category, Afghanistan was awarded the dishonorable status of Persecutor of the Year. The war-torn country is home to an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Christians. With the withdrawal of U.S. military personnel in August 2021, the Taliban instituted Sharialaw that classifies Christians converts as a community of criminals that deserve the death sentence. The extreme Islamists began a door-to-door hunt of Christians.
Leaders at the ICC meeting highlighted that Christ-followers in Afghanistan are suffering under the Taliban rule. Torture, threatening phone calls, kidnappings, and murder are some of the atrocities endured by Afghan Christians.
Akram, a Christian convert from Islam with contacts in Afghanistan, shared stories of how loved ones under Taliban rule are being oppressed.
"There is a guy that have been tortured with electric shocks in prison," she shared. "They were torturing him with cold water at during winter nights. And they were leaving him outside in the snow for the whole night."
Three months after he was imprisoned, Akram explained that his family "sold their house to pay of his life." Once they were reunited, the whole family was forced to leave town because they were the targets of harassment.
But in the midst of oppression, Akram shared that she's amazed by the hope and grace covering her Afghan brothers and sisters in Christ. She read a message she received from one of them to the audience.
"I don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. Are we going to survive or not? But I have peace. The Lord's peace is with me, and I am not afraid."
Fulani Militants Persecuting Christians in Nigeria
The ICC report also looked at groups that are actively attacking Christians. In the entity category, Fulani militants were awarded 2022 Persecutor of the Year for "openly and unabatedly" murdering thousands of Christians in Nigeria.
For the last two decades, Fulani jihadists have been killing, raping, and kidnapping Christians in in Nigeria's middle region where the Muslim north meets the Christian south. It is important to understand that the Fulani are an ethic group that mostly live in peace with their neighbors, but the militia are people who have been radicalized by extremist Islamic teaching.
It is difficult to quantify the number of Christians who have been killed over the years, but the ICC believes that there are an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 deaths. More than three million people, mostly farmers, have been displaced as a result of the conflict.
"Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places on the planet for Christians. Last year, we named Nigeria as the worst persecuting country," said King. "The government says repeatedly that it's doing something, that it's addressing the issue, but nothing happened."
In the report, 14-year-old Francis is highlighted as a survivor of Fulani jihadist attacks. On August 2021, the militia stormed his village killing 11 people, including his mother. Francis, whose father had passed away while his mother was pregnant with him, was shot multiple time and left for dead. But with the support of an ICC representative, he bravely underwent several surgeries and was later adopted.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Named Persecutor of the Year
Lastly, in the individuals category, Grand Ayatollah of Iran, Ali Khamenie, was named 2022 Persecutor of the Year. Khamenie became the Supreme Leader of Iran as a result of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which overthrew U.S.-backed government.
Under his rule, Christians are under severe religious oppression. The report states that Khamenie "directs persecution by controlling every aspect of Iranian life dealing grave consequences to those who do not conform to his strict conservative ideologies."
The report documents the story of Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor who converted from Islam when he was 19-years-old. In 2016, Khamenie directed authorities to raid several house churches. Nadarkhani was arrested for promoting "Zionist Christianity". Although he has since been released from prison on furlough, ICC reports that Pastor Nadarkhani continues to "suffer greatly" from his treatment in prison and is unable to "live out his faith".
In closing the meeting, the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain thanked the ICC for the compiling and sharing the latest information on religious persecution.
"This continues to be a major priority for us, the protection of Christians and other faith communities around the world," Ambassador Hussain insisted. "The efforts of organizations like International Christian Concern are very critical. And I want to commend your leadership, and I want to commend you for putting forth this award every year."