WASHINGTON – Christians and other peoples of faith executed, imprisoned, and tortured for practicing their religions. Sadly in many countries around the world this is a daily reality and a new report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reveals the most intolerant countries.
"There are a lot of dangerous places when it comes to being a Christian," Tony Perkins tells CBN News. He serves as chairman of USCIRF.
This year the commission recommends the State Department add five additional countries to its list of top offenders: India, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.
Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan already own the dubious distinction.
The commission, led by Perkins, a Christian, advocates for the free exercise of all faiths around the world.
"This really comes from the western Christian worldview that every person is endowed with the right from their Creator to choose whether or not to follow Him. I mean, we see that recorded in the book of Genesis and so as Christians we've advocated for every person's right to believe or not to believe. Now we obviously hope they will choose to follow God, but we fight for that right and that freedom for all people," Perkins explains.
Over the past year the commission has called out China for its treatment of Uighur Muslims. The government has sent an estimated 1.8 million of them to concentration camps, forced them into labor, and if reports are accurate, used them to harvest organs.
In North Korea, 50,000 Christians are languishing in prison camps as the world wonders what's happened, if anything, to the nation's leader Kim Jong Un.
"We certainly pray that the doors open to North Korea," says Perkins.
One of the new countries the commission recommends adding to the top offenders list, Nigeria, is the most populous country in Africa and has about an equal number of Muslim and Christian citizens.
The Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram is well organized and financed there, reportedly by US-ally Turkey, and is systematically killing Christians and taking them hostage as the government stands by.
Perkins says two years ago, after President Trump met with Muhammadu Buhari and told him he needed to protect Nigerian Christians, they received protections for about six months, but then were abandoned.
As a result of the violence, the number of Nigerian refugees is growing.
"We could see a destabilization of not only Africa, but many of these refugees would go into Europe," says Perkins.
Under Perkins' leadership, USCIRF this year held its first hearings in more than a decade, including one about anti-Semitism.
"Anti-Semitism is often the canary in the coalmine. It is the early warning sign that there's trouble when it comes to religious freedom and religious persecution. It may start with the Jewish population, but it's not going to stop there. We've seen this rise in Europe. We've seen it even in the UK. The Labour Party, some in the Labour Party have engaged in anti-Semitic comments," he explained.
"Everybody needs to realize the Holocaust is real, it happened, so that we do not repeat the same steps that brought us to that Holocaust. And some would argue we're seeing those things today with the BDS movement and others - very similar to what we saw in Germany in the 1930's," Perkins continued.
The global pandemic has added a layer of burden for persecuted peoples.
"Some have used this as a guise, a smokescreen, as an excuse to display hostility toward religion and we've called those countries out," Perkins says.
The commission focuses exclusively on international religious freedom, but in his private role, Perkins is monitoring how the pandemic has affected religious freedom in the US.
"We've had pockets in the United States where there's been, I would say, infringement upon religious freedom and the free exercise of that freedom. Fortunately the Department of Justice, here in the United States, stepped in in those cases."
And as businesses and the broader society starts to open up again, he believes churches should be first in line.
During his tenure on the commission, we asked him if it appears the world as a whole is becoming more or less tolerant of religion.
"I'm encouraged by the fact that Christians in the United States of America are becoming more aware of the persecution of other believers and other people of faith and are taking steps to address it, and it's being facilitated by an administration that has made religious freedom their number one foreign policy objective, which is huge, tremendous," he concluded.