One of three Nigerian Roman Catholic priests kidnapped in March, Father Leo Raphael Ozigi, has been released, according to the Archdiocese of Abuja.
The two others, Father Joseph Akete Bako and Father Felix Zakari Fidson, are still held captive.
Ozigi was one of 45 Christians abducted in Niger in the last week of March. Fulani herdsmen and armed bandits are believed to have carried out these attacks, according to Raphael Opawoye, secretary of the Niger chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
“Activities of Fulani herdsmen and terrorist elements here in Niger state have placed so much pressure on Christians, entire Christian communities in Munya Local Government are in disarray,” Opawoye said. “We are all sad about persistent attacks on our churches and communities by these armed bandits who are collaborating with Fulanis. Our people have been displaced, and many have been killed.”
Nigeria consistently ranks at or near the top of the list of countries with extreme social hostilities to religion. It is in danger of becoming one of the world’s deadliest places to live, according to the International Committee on Nigeria, a nongovernmental organization devoted to religious freedom and justice in Nigeria, and the International Organization for Peace Building and Social Justice, another NGO.
The Fulani are a largely nomadic and predominantly Muslim people numbering in the millions and spread out across Nigeria and the Sahel, a semiarid region in western and north-central Africa extending from Senegal to Sudan.
The community consists of hundreds of clans “who do not hold extremist views, but some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology,” the Britain-based All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief said in a 2020 report titled “Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide.”
The report notes that the Fulani “adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province] and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity.”
While all citizens across northern Nigeria face threats of violence, Christians are particularly targeted by extremist groups because of their faith, according to Open Doors, a Christian support group. “In addition to the risks of violence, Christians in some of Nigeria’s northern states also live under Shariah law, where they face discrimination and treatment as second-class citizens.”
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
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