By Newsmax Wires
More members of religious communities around the world were forced to flee their homes last year than at any time in recent memory, the United States said on Monday, in its annual report on religious freedom.
“In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs,” the report said.
The report said that in much of the Middle East, the Christian presence is becoming “a shadow of its former self.” Hundreds of thousands of minority Christians have fled Syria after three years of civil war.
“In the city of Homs the number of Christians dwindled to as few as 1,000 from approximately 160,000 prior to the conflict,” according to the report.
In the Central African Republic, lawlessness and sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims had reportedly resulted in 700 deaths in December alone and the displacement of more than a million people in 2013.
The report also highlighted anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar that led to up to 100 deaths and 12,000 being forced from their homes in the area of the town of Meiktila in early 2013.
It said organized hate-speech and harassment of Muslims continued and Buddhist-Muslim rivalry was often exploited for political gain.
The report also pointed to sectarian violence in Pakistan, which had killed more than 400 Shi’ite Muslims and 80 Christians were killed in a church bombing.
In China, seven Christians were sentenced lengthy prison terms for recording and copying sermons. The report also noted China’s prosecution of relatives of people who had set themselves on fire in religious protests.
In Egypt, churches and Christian-owned homes and businesses were raided and looted.
“Islamist-led mobs carried out acts of violence, intimidation, compelled expulsions, and punishment against Christians,” the report said.
At least 42 churches, schools, orphanages, and other Christian-affiliated organizations were attacked.
“The violence resulted in the looting and destruction of at least 37 churches and the deaths of at least six Christians who were targeted because of their religious identity,” according to the report.
Attacks on religion were not confined to the developing world, the report said, with anti-Semitism throughout Europe evidenced in Internet fora and in soccer stadiums “leading many individuals who are Jewish to conceal their religious identity.”
The report focuses on 2013, but attacks against Christians and other religious groups continues in 2014.
The BBC reported this month that Islamist militants have threatened Iraqi Christians with death by “the sword” unless they accept Islam or pay a protection fee.
And in Sudan, a Christian woman was sentenced to death for not recanting her faith. She has since been allowed to leave the country and last week had an audience with Pope Francis.
The report also said that there were instances in which people of different faiths had worked together to protect each other.
An increase in mosque attacks in Britain had led an orthodox Jewish neighborhood watch team to help Muslim leaders protect mosques, the report said.
Other such interfaith solidarity included Muslims helping to protect Christians by forming human chains around churches in Pakistan and similar actions by Muslims in Egypt.