Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has released the latest edition of its Religious Freedom Report (RFR), which reveals that persecution has increased since January 2021, while impunity continues to be the rule when it comes to attackers, including oppressive governments.

The RFR has been published by international Catholic foundation ACN every two years since 1999 and is the only non-Governmental report on global religious freedom that covers all faiths. This year’s report found that 61 countries completely or severely limit religious freedom. This is equivalent to one in every three countries in the world. It means that 62% of humanity lives in countries where people are not free to practice, express or change their religion.

In 47 of these countries the situation has worsened since the last report, whereas only nine showed signs of improvement. The situation especially affects religious minorities, which in some cases face a real threat of extinction, as a variety of factors – terrorism, cultural suppression, financial discrimination and legal restrictions – contribute to create a suffocating atmosphere in their homelands. However, there are also cases where persecution affects the majority religious groups, such as in Nigeria and Nicaragua.

Culprits of religious freedom violations range from armed terror groups to authoritarian governments, but the rule continues to be one of impunity for attackers who are rarely, if ever, brought to justice or criticised by the international community.

Half of the countries with the most severe restrictions on religious freedom are in Africa, where a rise in jihadist activity, especially in the Sahel region, continues to be of great concern. But Asia – where China continues to try to exert totalitarian control over all areas of society, including religion, and India, where state-sponsored ethno-religious nationalism manifests itself, among others, in the form of harsh anti-conversion laws – is also a continent of particular concern.

Finally, many western nations have also been showing alarming signs with the spreading of cancel culture and increased social and political pressure to conform to ideological trends.

Regina Lynch, who recently took over as executive president of ACN International, explains that the main purpose of this report is to “motivate people to get involved and help those suffering from religious persecution through prayer, sharing information, speaking up for victims, engaging politicians and keeping informed about reality on the ground in different parts of the world”.

“The ACN Religious Freedom in the World Report seeks only to provide information and analysis about the abuse of this fundamental human right worldwide. It is a tool. The tool is only as good as those who take it up, share it with others, and work to effect change”, says Regina Lynch.