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World News

Weaponisation of technology one reason behind global increase in religious persecution, report finds

The Religious Freedom report (RFR) by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has revealed almost a third of the world’s countries violate the right of religious freedom with more than five billion people facing severe religiously motivated persecution.

The use of new technology is one of the aspects driving the dramatic increase in persecution of faith groups during the last two years.

Islamic State terrorists, for example, are employing “sophisticated digital technologies to attack and expand globally”. The report traced the rise of Islamic networks including a "cyber-caliphate", a new tool for online recruitment and radicalisation.

“So-called Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, with ideological and material patronage from the Middle East, affiliate with, and further radicalise, local armed militias to establish ‘caliphate provinces’ along the Equator; a crescent of jihadist violence stretches from Mali to Mozambique in Sub-Saharan Africa, to the Comoros in the Indian Ocean, and to the Philippines in the South China Sea,” the report reads.

In China, the Communist Party is using 626 million Artificial Intelligent surveillance cameras and smartphone cameras to ensure that religious leaders and believers adhere to the rules.

The report also describes an increase of sexual violence used as a weapon against religious minorities with “crimes against girls and women abducted, raped, and obliged to change their faith in forced conversions” growing in a number of countries.

The Coronavirus pandemic has also been used to blame religious minorities for spreading the virus and as a consequence have been denied humanitarian aid.

Increased crackdowns by authoritarian regimes such as in North Korea and Myanmar, where investigations of possible genocide are ongoing, are reported to “have further oppressed religious minorities, reducing them to the status of de facto second-class citizens.”

In the West, the report found an increase in “polite persecution”, a term first coined by Pope Francis that “consign religions to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or relegates them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques” and has resulted in “the individual’s rights to freedom of conscience and religion coming into a profound conflict with the legal obligation to comply with these laws.”

ACN international president Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern said: “Regrettably, despite the – albeit important – UN initiatives and the staffing of religious freedom ambassadorships, to date the international community’s response to violence based on religion and religious persecution in general can be categorised as too little, too late.”

Out of a total of 196 countries in the world, 62 are currently violating religious freedom rights.

You can read the full report here

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