Nonpartisan Pew Research Center data reveals that government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion – including violence and harassment by private individuals, organizations, or groups, is increasing around the world. Christians in Nigeria, Rohingya in Myanmar, Yazidis in Iraq, Uyghur in China-entire communities across the globe are persecuted based on their religion or beliefs.
Given this rising trend, have you wondered why some international religious conflicts receive more coverage in the press than others? When the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) met last month, this was a key topic they discussed. A primary reason cited for under-reporting news on religious freedom and persecution of religious groups is the danger for journalists who do so, i.e. being jailed or imprisoned for their reporting.
A founding member of IARJ, journalist Erick Kabendera whose work regularly appears in The Guardian and The Economist among other outlets, was arrested in July 2019 and is currently being held in Segerea maximum security prison in Tanzania. His health is deteriorating and he does not qualify for bail. When asked prior about the challenges of reporting on religion he wrote: “There are growing interfaith tensions across the world and a rise in intolerance. Journalists play a role in bringing honest stories about the experiences of diverse religious communities into the public square.”
Around the world, journalists are doing courageous, insightful reporting on religious freedom and persecution of individuals and faith communities.
Jean-Paul Marthoz, Belgian journalist and senior advisor for the Committee to Project Journalists, has written: “hundreds of local and international reporters have been targeted by violence in the name of religious faith. The attacks have had a chilling effect on the coverage of religion and the many issues and conflicts that surround it. Many editors think twice before sending reporters to regions where religious extremists could abduct or kill them. In countries riven by religious sectarianism, some journalists do not dig too deeply. Even in more peaceful countries, the mainstream media are wary of the potential for violence, offense, or the trespassing of blasphemy laws. Columnists choose their words carefully or avoid inflammatory topics. Cartoonists blunt their pencils.”
The viewpoints of men and women are shaped by what they believe, hear and read. Raising public awareness on the reality of religious persecution is a critical step to help address violations of religious freedom. The news and stories must be told. The press has a vital role in informing citizens about religious freedom issues and monitoring the actions of governments at all levels. And, if more stories of interfaith cooperation are reported, people may realize that those of differing faiths do not have to agree on their religious tenets to be supportive of one another in a community.
Refer to these organizations for original and/or curated news and stories about international religious freedom and religious persecution.
Photo caption: Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera arrives at the Kisutu Residents Magistrate Court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. REUTERS/Emmanuel Herman