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New digital surveillance feeds risk of persecution

17 January 2020

World Wide Watch List names countries monitoring Christians


A Chinese technician installs one of several new closed-circuit surveillance cameras in the centre of Beijing, on Tuesday. Cameras with facial-recognition technology have also been installed in churches in China

A Chinese technician installs one of several new closed-circuit surveillance cameras in the centre of Beijing, on Tuesday. Cameras with facial-recogni...

THE number of Christians facing extreme or high persecution has risen sharply in the past year, as the use of new digital methods to monitor worshippers has increased.

The latest World Wide Watch List, compiled by the charity Open Doors, which monitors the persecution of Christians round the world, shows a six-per-cent increase in the number of Christians persecuted for their faith.

The latest list also reveals that new methods are increasingly being used to monitor and target religious believers, including artificial intelligence and biometric surveillance.

In China, surveillance cameras with facial-recognition technology have been installed in churches, and some churches have reported that members of the congregation must queue for facial-recognition checks before services. One church that refused to allow filming in its sanctuary was banned and demolished, Open Doors said.

In India, which is ranked number ten on the list of the most dangerous places for Christians to live, there are fears that the introduction of a nationwide facial-recognition system will lead to further persecution of Christians.

The Watch List was first compiled in 2002, and, since that date, the worst country for Christians has remained the same: North Korea — where owning a Bible can lead to arrest and internment in a labour camp.

In the top 50 countries in the list, about 260 million Christians are now said to face extreme or high levels of persecution: one in eight Christians around the world.

According to data compiled by the charity, every day eight Christians were killed for their faith, and 23 were raped or sexually harassed. Each week, 182 churches or Christian buildings were attacked, and 276 homes of Christians destroyed. Each month, 309 Christians were imprisoned for their faith.

In West Africa, persecution of Christians is rising fast owing to a resurgence of Islamist militancy. Burkina Faso has also entered the top 50 for the first time, at number 28, after a series of attacks by Islamist terrorists on churches. The Vatican recorded the deaths of more than 60 Christians in the country in 2019.

The report also highlights cases where Christians have chosen to make a stand in their communities, including the case of Pastor Abdalla, who has remained with his family in Aleppo, Syria, to keep his church open. Renamed Centre of Hope, the church, at the height of the crisis, offered food aid and emergency relief, and now offers medical and trauma care and other activities, including a football club for young people.

Pastor Abdalla said that it had been very important to people that the church had remained open, and there are now 200 members in the congregation. He said that he had repeatedly told his wife to leave Aleppo with his two young daughters in order to keep them safe. “But she told me they had to stay in Aleppo to take of the church and the community. I thank God for that,” he said.

Persecution of Christians has been discussed since the release of a report on its rise by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen (News, 30 August 2019), which was commissioned by the former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. The Government has, this month, confirmed that it intends to implement all the recommendations of his review in full.

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