THE number of countries where Christians suffer from very high or extreme levels of persecution has doubled over the past 12 months, the latest report by a global monitoring body suggests.
The charity Open Doors, which monitors persecution of Christians around the world, published its 2019 World Watch List on Wednesday. It said that 245 million Christians experience high levels of persecution, including one in three Christians in Asia.
In China, persecution of Christians is now at its highest level for a decade, and some church leaders say that it is at its worst since the Cultural Revolution.
The number of Christians in China is still growing, and by 2030 it is forecast to have the biggest Christian population in the world, exceeding 247 million.
The rise has prompted a tightening of control by the Chinese government over expressions of religion. A new regulation on Religious Affairs came into force last February, which prohibited children from hearing religious teaching and forced churches to place signs at their entrance forbidding anyone under 18 from entering. Many churches have been forcibly closed, and church leaders and worshippers have been arrested.
In one area, Roman Catholic churches had been told to replace pictures of Jesus with pictures of President Xi.
Open Doors’s 2019 report ranks 50 countries by the risk Christians face. China has moved up 16 places to number 27, and India has entered the top ten for the first time.
The charity said said that ultra-nationalism was behind the rise in India. Open Door’s chief executive, Henrietta Blyth, said: “It’s shocking that India — the country which taught the world the way of ‘non violence’ — now sits alongside the likes of Iran on our World Watch List. For many Christians in India, daily life is now full of fear, totally different from just four or five years ago.”
The report highlights China, Algeria, and Russia as of special concern.
In Algeria, some churches have been forced to close as the result of a state crackdown on Christian activity. And in Russia, which re-enters the list again for the first time since 2011, the situation for Christians in the Chechnya and Dagestan regions of the country is particularly bad, after attacks on churches carried out by the Islamic State.
Top of the list for persecution remains North Korea, which has been the worst country in the world for Christians for 18 years. Five years ago, it was the only country in the extreme category for the level of persecution suffered by Christians. This year, Christians in the World Watch List’s top 11 countries live where persecution is extreme. These are North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, India, and Syria.
The report says that 4305 Christians were killed for their beliefs alone last year; 3700 of these were in the north and middle belt of Nigeria, double the number of a year ago.
Deaths were highest in Plateau State, where 1885 deaths of Christians by Fulani tribesman were described as a genocide by the Nigerian House of Representatives.
Open Doors’s research shows that the targeted murders in Nigeria account for about 90 per cent of all faith-driven killings of Christians worldwide.
The report also highlights the rise in gender-specific persecution: Christian women were subjected to sexual violence, rape, and forced marriage in the top five countries on the list.
The cover of the 2019 report features Leah Sharibu, one of 100 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from a secondary school in Nigeria in February last year. A month later, all the girls bar Leah had been returned home — as the only Christian, she had refused to convert to Islam and is still being help by the terrorist group (News, 29 March 2018).
The publication of the annual league table of Christian persecution comes three weeks after the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, ordered an independent review of persecution faced by Christians across the globe (News, 4 January). The review will make recommendations on what steps the UK Government can take to support those under threat.
Open Doors has welcomed the review, but Ms Blyth said that the whole world needed to “wake up” to the fact persecution of religious minorities was increasing.
The report can be found at www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution