Religious Freedom Reports - The "Gold Standard"

With regular frequency, government agencies & commissions and some civil society organizations, publish reports that shed light on the global status of the declared U.N. article 18 human right to freedom of religion or belief. Some of these are more general in nature, and others are more specific in focus.

Christian Persecution News endeavors to bring together information from these reliable sources to provide a multi-source tool for those who have an interest in learning about the issue of anti-Christian violence worldwide.

In addition to other sources noted throughout the site, you will find information from the U.S. State Department’s  Office of International Religious Freedom (US IRF) headed up by Amb. Sam Brownback; by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) enacted by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act authored by fmr. Congressman Frank R. Wolf of Virginia; the Catholic Christian aid and watchdog group, Aid to the Church in Need; and the Protestant Christian aid and watchdog group, Open Doors USA.

For additional information on the policy and legislation impacting international religious freedoms and their defense, please visit our resource page here.

U.S. State Department Office of International Religious Freedom

The Department of State submits its annual Religious Freedom report to the Congress in compliance with section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-292), as amended. 

U.S. embassies prepare the initial drafts of country chapters based on information from government officials, religious groups, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, human rights monitors, academics, and others. The Office of International Religious Freedom, based in Washington, collaborates in collecting and analyzing additional information, drawing on its consultations with foreign government officials, domestic and foreign religious groups, domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations, multilateral and other international and regional organizations, journalists, academic experts, community leaders, and other relevant U.S. government institutions.

Also, the Secretary of State annually, in compliance with section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and the 2016 Frank R. Wolf Amendment, offers its Religious Freedom Designations in which it declares “countries of particular concern”, a “special watch list”, and an “entities of particular concern” list. These countries are subject to sanctions and other actions.

In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests, or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs. The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression. Protecting and promoting international religious freedom is a top foreign policy priority of the Trump Administration. In July, I hosted the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which brought together some 85 like minded governments and more than 400 civil society organizations to harness global attention and motivate forceful action to advance respect for the human right of religious freedom.

Safeguarding religious freedom is vital to ensuring peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the lives of individuals and the broader success of their societies. I recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; I welcome such initiatives and look forward to continuing the dialogue.

The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world.
— U.S. Department of State – IRF

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world, dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. USCIRF reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the Congressional leadership of both political parties. 

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.  USCIRF uses international standards to monitor religious freedom violations globally, and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.  USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and Congressional leaders of both political parties.  Their work is supported by a professional, nonpartisan staff.  USCIRF is separate from the State Department, although the Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom is a non-voting ex officio Commissioner.

Inherent in religious freedom is the right to believe or not believe as one’s conscience leads, and live out one’s beliefs openly, peacefully, and without fear.  Freedom of religion or belief is an expansive right that includes the freedoms of thought, conscience, expression, association, and assembly.  While religious freedom is America’s first freedom, it also is a core human right international law and treaty recognize; a necessary component of U.S. foreign policy and America’s commitment to defending democracy and freedom globally; and a vital element of national security, critical to ensuring a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable world.

    •    Issues an Annual Report by May 1st of each year.  The report assesses the U.S. government’s implementation of IRFA; recommends countries that the Secretary of State should designate as “Countries of Particular Concern” for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom;” documents country conditions in around 30 countries; reports on significant trends; and recommends U.S. policies.
    •    Documents Religious Freedom Conditions Abroad by meeting with senior government officials, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, religious leaders, victims of persecution, and others in countries including: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burma, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
    •    Engages Congress by working with Congressional offices, testifying at hearings, and holding briefings on issues including: protecting international religious freedom; Iran’s human rights record under Rouhani; human rights abuses in Egypt;  religious minorities in Syria; anti-Semitism; the persecution of religious and indigenous communities in Vietnam; persecuted Uighur Muslims in China.; and the plight of prisoners of conscience around the world. With the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, USCIRF launched the Defending Freedoms Project, working with Members of Congress to highlight religious prisoners and imprisoned human rights defenders worldwide.
    •    Issues Reports with Policy Prescriptions, Press Releases, Op-Eds, and Journal Articles including: the global use of blasphemy laws; religious violence in Pakistan; religious freedom provisions in the constitutions of Muslim-majority countries; Russia’s failure to protect religious freedom; the status of religious minorities in Iran; religious violence in CAR; anti-Semitism; and the U.S. government’s treatment of asylum seekers in Expedited Removal.  
    •    Engages Multilaterally in meetings related to religious freedom and tolerance, including at the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union, and with parliamentarians from across the globe.
– USCIRF Who We Are

Aid to the Church In Need - Religious Freedom in the World Report

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship or observance.[SEE REPORT FINDINGS HERE]

Examining the two-year period up to and including June 2018, this report assesses the religious situation of every country in the world. Recognizing that religious liberty cannot be adequately assessed in isolation, the country reports critique the often intricate relationship between matters of religion and other related factors – for example politics, economy, education (see Backgrounder – Not only a religious issue). 196 nations have been examined with a special focus in each case on the place of religious freedom in constitutional and other statutory documents, incidents of note and finally a projection of likely trends. From these reports, the countries have been categorized (see the table which appears on page 36-39). The table focuses on countries where violations against religious freedom go beyond comparatively mild forms of intolerance to represent a fundamental breach of human rights.

The countries where these grave violations occur have been placed into two categories – ‘Discrimination’ and ‘Persecution’. (For a full definition of both categories, visit In these cases of discrimination and persecution, the victims typically have little or no recourse to law.
In essence, ‘Discrimination’ ordinarily involves an institutionalization of intolerance, normally carried out by the state or its representatives at different levels, with legal and custom entrenching mistreatment of individual groups, including faith-based communities.

Whereas the ‘Discrimination’ category usually identifies the state as the oppressor, the ‘Persecution’ alternative also includes terrorist groups and non-state actors, as the focus here is on active campaigns of violence and subjugation, including murder, false detention, and forced exile as well as damage to and expropriation of property. Indeed, the state itself can often be a victim, as seen for example in Nigeria. Hence, ‘Persecution’ is a worse-offending category, as the religious freedom violations in question are more serious, and, by their nature, also tend to include forms of discrimination as a by-product.

Examining every country worldwide in turn, this report found evidence of significant religious freedom violations in 38 nations (19.3 percent). These 38 countries were examined in more detail with the following conclusions drawn: First, 21 (55 percent) were placed in the top ‘Persecution’ category and the remaining 17 (45 percent) in the less serious ‘Discrimination’ category. This means that worldwide, 11 percent of countries were ranked at the level of ‘Persecution’ and 9 percent at the level of ‘Discrimination’. Second, the situation concerning religious freedom deteriorated in 18 of the 38 (47.5 percent) countries, split roughly evenly between the ‘Persecution’ and ‘Discrimination’ categories. Third, that 18 of the 38 countries – 47.5 percent – showed no obvious sign of change between 2016 and 2018. Fourth, religious freedom conditions improved in only two of the countries (5 percent). These countries were Iraq and Syria, both top offenders in 2016. Significantly, the religious freedom situation in Russia and Kyrgyzstan deteriorated to such an extent in the two years since mid-2016 that they entered the ‘Discrimination’ category for the first time in 2018. By contrast, a sharp decline in militant Islamist violence in Tanzania (Zanzibar) and Kenya meant that in 2018 they dropped two categories, being ranked ‘Unclassified’.

While, in numerous respects, these 2018 findings were comparable to those recorded in 2016, there is one significant difference: namely, a marked increase in the number of countries with significant religious freedom violations, where the situation has clearly worsened. 2018 recorded 18 countries where the situation had declined, up four on the previous reporting period. This represented a marked deterioration. It reflected a general pattern, which shows an increasing threat to religious liberty from state actors. Examples here include Burma (Myanmar), China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Turkey. Although the threat from Islamist and other non-state actors has declined since 2016 in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Tanzania and Kenya, in many other countries the threat from Islamism was notable but not necessarily sufficient – yet – to warrant a categorization indicating change for the worse. The evidence suggested the threat in this area was likely to increase going forward into the next decade. This same projection can more definitively be made with regard to state actors – authoritarian regimes – which, since 2016, have caused a setback for religious freedom in numerous countries, including those with both regional and global influence.
– Aid to the Church in Need 2018 Religious Freedom in the World Report

Open Doors USA, World Watch List

Open Doors USA is a community of Christians who come together to support persecuted believers in more than 60 countries operating as a non-profit organization with more than 60 years of experience and a long track record of financial integrity.At the beginning of every year, Open Doors USA publishes its comprehensive World Watch List designating the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.
Open Doors USA, World Watch List 2019

What is the World Watch List?
The World Watch List is an annual report on the global persecution of Christians ranking the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith. Released at the beginning of each year, the list uses data from Open Doors field workers and external experts to quantify and analyze persecution worldwide.

How are the countries ranked?
Countries are ranked by the severity of persecution of Christians, calculated by analyzing the level of violent persecution plus the pressure experienced in five spheres of life.


    • 215 million Christians experience high levels of persecution in the countries on the World Watch List. This represents 1 in 12 Christians worldwide.
    • North Korea is ranked #1 for the 16th consecutive year (since 2002).
    • During the World Watch List 2018 reporting period: 3,066 Christians were killed; 1,252 were abducted; 1,020 were raped or sexually harassed; and 793 churches were attacked.
    • Islamic Oppression fuels persecution in 8 of the top 10 countries.


1. Spread of Radical Islam
Islamic oppression is one of the most widely recognized sources of persecution for Christians in the world today—and it continues to spread—aiming to bring many parts of the world under Sharia law. The movement, which often results in Islamic militancy and persecution of Christians, is expanding in Asia (Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia) and Africa (Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia).

2. The Rise of Religious Nationalism
In an effort to preserve power, insecure governments are using the country’s majority religion to marginalize Christians and other religious minorities. This phenomenon has been observed in some parts of Asia with Hindu nationalism (India, Nepal) and Buddhist nationalism (Myanmar, Sri Lanka) both gaining ground.

3. Intense Persecution in Central Asia
Persecution in Central Asia is on the rise in countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan—and Azerbaijan is new to the list at #45. There is a grassroots revival of Islam in Central Asia, and that means more pressure from the nationalist pro-Islamic governments and within society—causing increased persecution levels on two fronts.