By Philip Pullella
ROME (Reuters) - Violations of religious freedom are increasing and persecution takes place in more than 25 countries, with China and Myanmar among those that have the worst records, according to a report by a Vatican-backed charity.
The Religious Freedom in the World Report, covering 2019-2020 and issued on Tuesday, said that in some countries, such as Niger, Turkey and Pakistan, prejudices against religious minorities led local residents to blame them for the COVID-19 pandemic and denial of access to medical aid.
The 800-page report was prepared by Aid to the Church in Need International (ACN), a worldwide Catholic charity that studies violations of freedoms of all religions.
The latest report put 26 countries in a "red" category denoting the existence of persecution, compared to 21 countries at the time of the last report two years ago.
It put 36 countries in the "orange" category denoting discrimination, compared to 17 two years ago.
The report describes discrimination as when laws or rules apply to a particular group and not to all, and persecution as when there is an active programme to subjugate people based on religion.
"There has been a significant increase in the severity of religiously-motivated persecution and oppression," the report said.
It was particularly scathing about China and Myanmar.
"The apparatus of repression constructed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in recent years is ... fine-tuned, pervasive, and technologically sophisticated," the report said.
The most egregious violations were against Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang "where the atrocities have reached such a scale that a growing number of experts describe them as genocide", it said.
HARASSMENT AND ARREST"
In February, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden endorsed a last-minute determination by the Trump administration that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang and has said the United States must be prepared to impose costs on China.
China says the complexes it set up in Xinjiang provide vocational training to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism. The Chinese foreign ministry has called allegations of forced labour and human rights violations "groundless rumour and slander".
The ACN report said Catholic hierarchy in China "continue to suffer harassment and arrest" despite a landmark deal signed in 2018 between Bejing and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops on the mainland.
Reuters reported last year that two nuns who work at the Vatican mission in Hong Kong were arrested when they went home to the mainland for a visit.
China was increasing the use of facial recognition on worshippers of various religions, it said.
In Myanmar, the report said Rohingya Muslims "have been the victims of the most egregious violations of human rights in recent memory".
Last year, the International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect Rohingya from genocide. The government has denied accusations of genocide.
The ACN report said the military coup on Feb. 1 was "likely to make things worse for all religious minorities" in Myanmar, where about 8% of the population is Christian.
Africa would be "the next battleground against Islamic militants," the report said.
Militant groups were causing havoc in countries including Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, northern Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Mozambique, it said.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella, Editing by Timothy Heritage)