International Institute for Religious Freedom

IIRF President calls for protecting and enforcing religious freedom

Prof. Thomas Schirrmacher makes an appeal to German political decision-makers on the occasion of the presentation of the Yearbooks for Religious Freedom


As part of the annual presentation of the Yearbooks on Religious Freedom and Persecution and Discrimination against Christians on 11 December 2023 in Berlin, Prof. Thomas Schirrmacher, President of the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF) and of the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR), made an appeal to the German federal government and state governments.

“Religious freedom must be protected by democratic states. The state is particularly challenged when those it protects threaten or even attack people of other faiths. Protecting and enforcing go hand in hand. When houses in which Jews live are marked and religiously motivated hatred is spread on our streets, the state must take action against the perpetrators with the utmost resoluteness,” Schirrmacher explained.

In Europe, religious intolerance, anti-Christian and anti-Semitic hate crimes, and calls for violence are booming, and Christians are the second most frequently attacked religious group after Jews. This includes not only everyday threats, insults, marginalization and other discrimination, but also murders and physical assaults. In contrast, Schirrmacher declared,

“Anyone who questions our Jewish fellow citizens or Israel’s right to exist must be confronted by the German state!”

Even small religious communities need protection

Standing up for religious freedom does not only mean standing up for large religious communities such as Christians or Muslims when they are discriminated against. It is just as important to protect believers from small religious communities, such as indigenous peoples in Latin America. This topic is addressed by several authors in the current Yearbook on Religious Freedom.

Frank Schwabe, Federal Government Commissioner for Freedom of Religion and Belief, is one of the authors. He explained the spirituality of indigenous peoples as a new, important topic of religious freedom, adding that recognizing indigenous religions and worldviews as fundamental components of religious freedom and cultural diversity is of central importance for the sustainable, cooperative and peaceful development of our world. Schwabe continued:

“Christians—the largest religious community in the world—are particularly affected by the violation of religious freedom. We must not let up in our efforts anywhere, as current examples from India, China and Nigeria show. For reasons of credibility, we must maintain the broad horizon of the many violations of religious freedom.”

Intertwining of state and religious extremism

In some countries, the persecution of people of other faiths arises from a symbiotic connection between religious extremism and state power. Iran, Myanmar, India and Pakistan systematically discriminate against and persecute people of other faiths. Religious subjugation and persecution laws also serve this purpose; for example, they “make alleged ‘blasphemy’ or “bringing destruction on earth” subject to the most severe penalties, including the death penalty,” according to Martin Lessenthin, human rights expert and co-editor of the Yearbooks. The marginalization and persecution of people who do not profess any religion or who make their renunciation of religion public is also on the rise. The Islamic republics in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan are particularly prominent in this regard.

Persecutors are totalitarian states and extremists

“Religious minorities are currently victims of persecution by totalitarian states such as China, Cuba, North Korea and the theocracy in Iran. At the same time, they are victims of non-state extremist movements. Religious extremist persecutors include the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab in Somalia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthi militias in Yemen, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories, Hindu extremists in India, and Boko Haram and Islamist Fulani militias in Nigeria,” Lessenthin continued.

In countries such as Cuba and Nicaragua, representatives of religious communities are systematically pressured to document their loyalty to the state leadership, and if they resist, there is a threat of imprisonment, isolation and coercion against other believers or relatives.

“The hallmark of German foreign policy” must always be “reliable and committed advocacy for the victims of religious discrimination and other human rights violations,” Lessinthin stated. “Every politically responsible person who wants to enter into dialogue with Germany or take advantage of good economic relations must know that they will be judged by their commitment to freedom of faith and belief”.

The press conference to present the yearbooks was also attended by Matthias Boehning, Secretary General of the International Society for Human Rights; Volker Beck, President of the German-Israeli Association; Michael Brand, spokesman for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group on human rights and humanitarian aid; and Frank Heinrich, Chairman of the Evangelical Alliance in Germany (EAD).

The 2022/23 yearbooks

The Yearbook on Persecution and Discrimination of Christians 2022/23 (Jahrbuch Verfolgung und Diskriminierung von Christen 2022/23) and the Yearbook on Religious Freedom 2022/23 (Jahrbuch Religionsfreiheit 2022/23) are now available free of charge for download and for free distribution and provision on other websites.

The yearbooks are also made available to all members of the German Bundestag by the German Evangelical Alliance. A similar service is provided in Switzerland and Austria. Further copies can be requested for distribution to politicians and church leaders.

The yearbooks are published by the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR), the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF) and the religious freedom working groups of the three German-speaking alliances: the German Evangelical Alliance, the Swiss Evangelical Alliance and the Austrian Evangelical Alliance.

The printed version was published on 5 December 2023 by Culture and Science Publishing (VKW). Both yearbooks are combined in a single reversible book. Both books are available from booksellers at a price of 14 euros.