The countries below are some of the world’s worst violators of religious freedom according to the independent, bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2015 Annual Report.

  1. North Korea consistently ranks among the world’s most repressive regimes, in part because of its deplorable human rights record. The North Korean government reserves its most severe persecution for Christians, although in practice the regime is averse to all organized religion.

  2. The new post-military government faces myriad human rights challenges. Conditions remain grave for Rohingya Muslims, particularly those in Rakhine State and especially the approximately 140,000 confined in deplorable camps. Senior political and Buddhist leaders continue to express intolerance toward Muslims. Meanwhile, 100,000 Kachin, primarily Christians, remain internally displaced in camps due to ongoing conflicts with Burma’s military.

  3. Even though the state’s grip on religion has loosened over the past 30 years, religious groups are still often seen as a threat to the communist party’s control over society. Allegiance to any authority other than the communist party is viewed adversely.

    One expression of that is in the State’s attitude toward Christian churches. As explained in Brent Fulton’s China’s Urban Christians: A Light that Cannot be Hidden (2015): "the boundaries of acceptable Christian activity are still set by the regime and subject to change."

    As the church continues to grow at a rapid rate and experience some degree of freedom, "the central issue for China’s Christians has shifted from freedom of belief to freedom of association.” This has not stopped the church from "working creatively within the system, seek political change that will allow the church to fulfill what they see as its proper role in Chinese Society."

  4. The Eritrean government continues to repress religious freedom for unregistered and, in some cases, registered religious communities. Systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations include torture or other ill-treatment of religious prisoners, arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges, a prolonged ban on public religious activities of unregistered religious groups, and interference in the internal affairs of registered religious groups. The situation is particularly grave for Protestant Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    The Islamic Republic of Iran is a constitutional, theocratic republic that proclaims the Twelver (Shi’a) Jaafari School of Islam to be the official religion of the country. Since his 2013 election, President Hassan Rouhani has not delivered on his campaign promises to strengthen civil liberties for religious minorities.

    Saudi Arabia remains uniquely repressive in the extent to which it restricts the public expression of any religion other than Islam. The Saudi government continues to use criminal charges of apostasy and blasphemy to suppress discussion and debate and silence dissidents. Promoters of political and human rights reforms, and those seeking to debate the role of religion in relation to the state, its laws, and society, typically have been the targets of such charges.

    More than 97 percent of the Sudanese population is Muslim. Christians are estimated at three percent of the population. Sudan’s overall human rights record is poor: freedoms of expression, association and assembly are limited, with routine crackdowns and arrests of journalists, human rights advocates, and demonstrators. The armed conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states continued. All parties to the conflict are responsible for mass displacement, civilian deaths, and other human rights abuses.

  5. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a constitutional, theocratic republic that proclaims the Twelver (Shi’a) Jaafari School of Islam to be the official religion of the country. Since his 2013 election, President Hassan Rouhani has not delivered on his campaign promises to strengthen civil liberties for religious minorities. 

  6. Saudi Arabia remains uniquely repressive in the extent to which it restricts the public expression of any religion other than Islam. The Saudi government continues to use criminal charges of apostasy and blasphemy to suppress discussion and debate and silence dissidents. Promoters of political and human rights reforms, and those seeking to debate the role of religion in relation to the state, its laws, and society, typically have been the targets of such charges.

  7. More than 97 percent of the Sudanese population is Muslim. Christians are estimated at three percent of the population. Sudan’s overall human rights record is poor: freedoms of expression, association and assembly are limited, with routine crackdowns and arrests of journalists, human rights advocates, and demonstrators. The armed conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states continued. All parties to the conflict are responsible for mass displacement, civilian deaths, and other human rights abuses.

  8. Turkmenistan is the most closed country in the former Soviet Union. The government continues to impose harsh penalties, such as imprisonment, involuntary drug treatment, and fines, for religious and human rights activities.

  9. With an estimated 28.7 million people, Uzbekistan is the most populous post-Soviet Central Asian state. An estimated 93 percent of its population is Muslim. The government of Uzbekistan continues to enforce a highly restrictive religion law and impose severe restrictions on all independent religious activity, particularly by Muslims, unregistered Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  10. Militias formed along opposing “Muslim” and “Christian” lines (often ethnic differences, in reality) in the CAR continue to kill individuals based on their religious identity. But there are signs of change and hope, with various civil society actors participating in reconciliation efforts, and the formation of a Special Criminal Court to prosecute grave human rights violations committed in the country since 2003.

  11. The most populous nation in the Middle East consists of approximately 89 million. Eighty five to 90 percent are Sunni Muslam and Christians form an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the population. In a context of deteriorating human rights conditions, the Egyptian government has taken positive steps to address some religious freedom concerns. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has also continued to make public statements encouraging religious tolerance and moderation. There have been notably fewer sectarian attacks against Christians and other religious minorities, and investigations and prosecutions have continued for the unprecedented scale of destruction of churches and Christian property that occurred in the summer of 2013.

  12. Iraq’s religious freedom climate continued to deteriorate in 2015, especially in areas under the control of so called ‘Islamic State’. Conditions remain challenging, and are changing all the time.

  13. The population of 180 million (the largest in Africa) is equally divided between Muslims and Christians and is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups. Religious freedom conditions in Nigeria continue to be troubling, with Boko Haram engaging in a campaign to overthrow Nigeria’s secular government and impose what it considers “pure” Shari’ah law. Boko Haram opposes Nigeria’s federal and northern state governments, political leaders, and Muslim religious elites and has worked to expel all Christians from the north.

  14. Pakistan is an ethnically and religiously diverse country of over 190 million people. Pakistan’s religious freedom environment has long been marred by religiously-discriminatory constitutional provisions and legislation, including its blasphemy laws. For years, the Pakistani government has failed to protect citizens, minority and majority alike, from sectarian and religiously-motivated violence.

  1. Prior to the onset of the conflict in 2011, Syria was home to a multitude of religious groups. Nearly six years of conflict has led to a devastating humanitarian crisis. The death toll is significantly greater than 250,000 according to most sources. As of January 2016, more than 4.7 million Syrians were registered with UNHCR as refugees in neighboring countries, more than 6.5 million were internally displaced, and over 140,000 children had been born stateless. The whole nation remains in a very unstable state.

  2. Tajikistan is an isolated and impoverished country, over 90 percent of whose estimated population of 7.9 million is Muslim. Of the country’s 150,000 Christians, most are Russian Orthodox, but there are also Protestants and Roman Catholics. Tajikistan’s legal environment for religious freedom has seen a sharp decline since the passage of several highly restrictive laws in 2009.The government suppresses and punishes all religious activity independent of state control, particularly the activities of Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  3. Government restrictions on religious activities in Vietnam vary widely across geographical areas, as well as among religious organizations based on their relationship with the state. This sends conflicting messages about Vietnam’s overall commitment to respecting and protecting freedom of religion or belief. While the broader human rights situation in Vietnam remains fluid, religious freedom in particular continues to be nuanced and complex.

  4. The Afghan constitution, which states that Islam is the state religion, violates international standards for freedom of religion or belief. No Afghan law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of Islam. Courts are allowed to defer to Shariah law and charges such as blasphemy, apostasy and conversion are punishable by death. Hindus and Sikhs face discrimination, harassment and violence despite being allowed to practice their faith. The very small Christian population cannot worship openly.

  5. Though the country had a strong tradition of societal religious tolerance, respect for religious freedom has deteriorated. The Azerbaijani government is viewed as corrupt and authoritarian by human rights activists. The Aliev family has dominated the country’s politics since 1969. The country’s constitution stipulates the separation of state and religion and equality of all religions. Though the constitution protects freedom of religion, the country has passed laws and amendments that limit religious freedom. Unregistered religious communities often face raids, confiscation of religious texts and other penalties. Those found advocating for religious freedom are imprisoned.

  6. Cuba is a communist state that has mostly been dominated by military and corrupt politicians. Freedom of religion or belief in the largely Roman Catholic country is limited by constitutional and legal provisions. The Cuban government actively limits, controls and monitors religious practice, often harassing religious leaders and laity and interfering in religious groups’ internal affairs. The religious community has seen an increase in threats by the government to close, demolish or confiscate church properties.

  7. India is the world’s largest democracy with nearly 80 percent of its population being Hindu. Though it is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country with a secular democracy, the government has long struggled to maintain religious and communal harmony, protect minority communities from abuses, and provide justice when crimes occur. The country has experienced periodic outbreaks of large-scale communal violence against religious minorities. Targeting of religious minorities, including Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, has increased since the Bharatiya Janata Party won the general election in 2014. Christians are particularly at risk in states that have adopted anti-conversion laws.

  8. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. The law restricts citizens from exercising their rights to worship in a way that impinges on the rights of others, or jeopardizes security or public order. Radical groups often attack religious minorities and influence the responses of local government officials when violence occurs. Some local governments restrict or prevent religious practice in the form of denying permits or closing or tearing down houses of worship. Ahmadis and Shi’a Muslims are viewed as heretics.

  9. Kazakhstan was formerly viewed as one of the most liberal post-Soviet Central Asian states in regard to freedom of religion or belief. But in 2011, the country passed a religion law that bans unregistered religious activity, sets complex registration requirements, and restricts areas of permitted religious activity. The government promotes religious freedom for “traditional” religious groups — Hanafi Islam and Russian Orthodox Christianity. Religious groups are subject to police surveillance.

  10. The government officially recognizes four religious groups — Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Bahai Faith. All religious groups are required to register with one of the officially recognized umbrella groups. Despite official recognition, Christians experience the most government restrictions and discrimination and face pressure from local officials or the community to renounce their faith.

  11. Malaysia is officially secular but it implements an increasingly exclusive brand of Islam that is based, in part, on the constitutional establishment of Islam as the official religion. Prime Minister Najib Razak and the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition crack down on anyone who expresses dissent or criticism, accusing them of attacking Islam. Civil courts increasingly cede jurisdiction to Shariah courts, where non- Muslims have fewer rights.

  12. The constitution provides for freedom of religion but by law officials may prohibit the activity of a religious association for violating public order or engaging in “extremist activity.” The law qualifies as extremist “propaganda of the superiority of one’s own religion.” Although the constitution guarantees a secular state and equal legal status for all religions, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Christian is strongly favored. Violations of religious freedom have escalated with criminal convictions, fines and detentions against religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  13. While Turkey’s current constitution is strictly secular, the government in power since 2002 is pro-Islamist and has been gradually & intentionally undermining this secular stand. Religious matters are coordinated and governed by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) whose mandate is to direct and promote Sunni Islam and is directly accountable to the Office of the Prime Minister. No other religious communities (including non-Sunni Islamic ones) have clear legal status. They try to operate as associations or trusts. These communities are subject to state controls that greatly limit their rights to own and maintain places of worship, train clergy and offer religious education. Non-Muslim communities are frequently subjected to dis-information, demonizing and various prejudices. And yet conversion is not illegal, and a considerable amount of religious freedoms and practices are allowed.

Based on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2015 report