GLOBAL persecution of Christians was “more extreme than ever before”, Open Doors said this week, at the launch of its annual World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which it is most dangerous to be a Christian.
The list is headed by North Korea, Iraq, and Eritrea. A country had to score 50 per cent more points than in 2013 just to make it on to the list. The lowest-ranking country in 2013 had 35 points, compared with 53 points this year. The rest of the top ten are, in descending order, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, and Libya.
“The persecution of Christians is getting worse in every region in which we work — and it’s getting worse fast,” the CEO of Open Doors, Lisa Pearce, said on Thursday of last week. “The trend is stark, as are the consequences for real people. We should not expect that to change, unless we are part of changing the situation.”
Open Doors monitors persecution by measuring violence, including rapes, killings, and church burnings. Its records suggest that, worldwide, more than 7000 Christians were “killed for faith-related reasons” between November 2014 and October 2015 — a rise of almost 3000 on the previous year. Churches attacked or damaged doubled to 2300.
Countries’ ranking also relates to “how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed” in five areas: private life, family life, community life, national life, and church life. Open Doors estimates that, every year, more than 100 million Christians are persecuted because of their beliefs. “Systematic religious cleansing is widespread across Africa and the Middle East,” the report says. Islamic fundamentalism is “most extreme and is rising most sharply” in sub-Saharan Africa, where “more people are killed for their Christian faith . . . than anywhere else in the world”. It describes a sweep of radical Islam across the region, “from Kenya upwards”.
The killing of 147 students at Garissa College (News, 10 April), which reopened this week, is cited, as are more than 2500 killings in Nigeria attributed to Boko Haram.
In Korea, it is estimated that about 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in labour camps. The biggest increases in persecution were recorded in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and Eritrea. India was ranked 17, compared with 31 in 2013. Open Doors estimates that “the religious freedom of over 200 million people is severely threatened by a new wave of Hindu nationalist electoral successes, that have seen the introduction of drastic anti-conversion laws.” On average, a church is burned down, or a pastor is beaten, three times a week.
The report was due to be launched in front of 100 MPs at the House of Commons yesterday. It was welcomed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. “Those who speak for them with information and authority are few and far between,” he said. “Open Doors is clearly one of them.”
Ms Pearce urged the Government to “do everything possible within their spheres of influence to affect what happens next. We will not get these days back.”