NON-VIOLENT persecution, which seeks to grind down Christian communities, with the ultimate aim of elimination, is “growing in the shadows” in many countries, Open Doors reported last week.
Its annual “World Watch List” report ranks the countries in which it is most dangerous to be a Christian. Its 2018 report, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The rise of non-violent persecution as a tool of suppression, published on Wednesday of last week, highlights the rise of “toxic religious nationalism” in India — rising from 28 to 11 since Prime Minister Modi came to power — as an example of the growing “squeeze” on Christians.
“When non-violent persecution is employed effectively, it can be much more successful than violence in restricting the freedom of the whole Christian community,” the report says. Violent tactics can backfire, it argues: killing Christian leaders could simply create inspiring martyrs, or harm trade relations. “It is easier to let those Christian leaders live but to ensure their Christian faith costs them their job, their child’s education or their access to services in the hope that they will simply give up as lives become increasingly harder.”
A “cradle to grave” list of tactics highlights the registration of religion from birth, barriers to education and employment, displacement, forced conversion and marriage, and obstacles to building places of worship. In India, Open Doors estimates, 653 Christians were detained without trial, or unfairly arrested and imprisoned in 2017, while 23,000 incidents of physical and mental abuse took place. Christians are facing “increasing pressure as the toxic religious nationalism of the country’s politics finds fertile ground in villages all over India”.
Each one of the countries in the top 11 is a designated “place of extreme persecution” — more countries than ever before in the 26-year history of the report. Just four years ago, only North Korea met the definition (“where the full and free exercise of the Christian faith is either extremely dangerous or now allowed within society at large”). Open Doors estimates that more than 3000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2017, more than twice as many as that reported in last year’s report. Two-thirds of these deaths took place in Nigeria. Egypt has risen from 21 to 17, partly owing to the kidnapping of Christian girls.
Pakistan has the highest violence rating, with a higher number of abductions, forced marriages, and attacks on churches than any other country. On Tuesday of last week, Hannah, a Pakistani woman, said that, while the Pakistani government was “sympathetic” to the plight of Christians and “constantly states that we are afforded the constitutional right to exist”, extremist pressure groups were a powerful force.
“What we require is for the government to root out extremism,” she said. The education system was still “heavily reliant on madrassas”, and textbooks were “riddled with misconceptions about Christianity and other faiths”. She urged countries to “champion the cause of Christians” when entering into negotiations with Pakistan and ask for “an absolute refusal of extremist ideology, which is not in keeping with the premise on which Pakistan was created”.
The report identifies cause for hope in Syria, which has fallen out of the top ten, to 15, owing to falling levels of violence and the return of some Christians to their homes.
Among the recommendations is a suggestion that the Government use the post-EU referendum trade negotiations to champion freedom of belief with countries including China, India, and Saudi Arabia.
The Bishop of Croydon, the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark and the Revd Sue Thomas, an NSM at St John, Coulsdon, were among those who attended the launch of the report in Parliament last week.
“It was great to be at the World Watch Launch with Bishop Jonathan to show our support for persecuted Christians who are part of some of the most vulnerable communities across the world,” Ms Thomas said.