Africa seeing ‘dramatic increase in jihadist groups,’ says global religious freedom report

By Courtney Mares for CNA

A funeral Mass in Nigeria. / Aid to the Church in Need.

Rome Newsroom, Apr 20, 2021 / 04:20 am (CNA).

Aid to the Church in Need published a religious freedom report Tuesday documenting a “dramatic increase” in the presence of jihadist groups, some aligned with the Islamic State, in Sub-Saharan and Eastern Africa.

“Over the last two years, jihadist groups have consolidated their presence in Sub-Saharan Africa and the region has become a haven for over two dozen actively operating — and increasingly cooperating — groups in 14 countries, including affiliates of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda,” Marcela Szymanski wrote in the report published April 20.

“The development of these affiliates has occurred within an alarmingly short timeframe, and the pattern is familiar. Attacks by local criminal gangs, spurred on by Salafi jihadist preachers, progress from the sporadic and arbitrary to the ideological and targeted.”

The pontifical foundation’s 2021 Report on Religious Freedom in the World found that “grave violations of religious freedom” occurred in one in three of the world’s 196 countries between 2018 and 2020.

Persecution based on faith worsened particularly in Nigeria, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other African countries.

The religious freedom report also called attention to the use of surveillance based on artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies by authoritarian governments that violate religious freedom, particularly in China, where the state has employed such technologies in its mass internment of mostly Muslim, ethnic Uyghurs.

The report documented an increase of “sexual violence used as a weapon against religious minorities — crimes against women and girls who are abducted, raped and forced to convert.” It included a case study of Pakistan, where young Christian and Hindu girls have been abducted by Muslim men.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) found that persecution, hate crimes, and religiously motivated violence were worst in 26 countries, including India, Myanmar, Iran, Malaysia, and North Korea.

Thomas Heine-Geldern, president of ACN International, said that the international community’s response to violence based on religion, and religious persecution in general, “can be categorized as too little too late.”

“Today discrimination and persecution on the grounds of religious belief is a growing global phenomenon,” he said.

“Behind the violent conflicts, whether in Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, the Central African Republic or Mozambique — to mention only a few countries — are those in the shadows who, manipulating the deepest convictions of humanity, have instrumentalized religion in the search for power.”

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