CHRISTIANS around the world have faced increased persecution as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the refusal of access to emergency aid and increased surveillance and violence, a watchdog has reported.
The charity Open Doors compiles an annual World Watch List of countries in which Christians face persecution. This year, it calculates, one in eight Christians around the world have been subject to some form of persecution or discrimination as a result of their faith. The total, 340 million, is 30 million higher than in 2020.
Covid-19 has exacerbated the persecution, researchers say. In countries in Asia, there are widespread reports that Christians are being denied Covid-related assistance. Some reported being told that “Your Church or your God should feed you” as they were refused help.
In China, there has been a tightening surveillance of Christians. China has moved up into the top 20 on the list for the first time in decades.
The chief executive of Open Doors, Henrietta Blyth, said at the launch of the report on Wednesday of last week: “Covid-19 has put new weapons into the hands of people who wish to eradicate and suppress Christianity. In Asia and Africa, we’ve seen Christians discriminated against in the distribution of food aid. In Nigeria and across sub-Saharan Africa, lockdown has made people sitting ducks for Islamic extremists such as Boko Haram and Fulani tribesmen.
“Totalitarian regimes have used Covid-19 as a quasi-legitimate excuse to increase surveillance and control of their citizens. North Korea is number one on the list for the 20th year in a row. At the beginning of the pandemic, the government there closed the border to anyone trying to come in; so we don’t know what has happened to Christians during Covid-19, though country experts have told Open Doors there have been many deaths.
“In China, churches last year were forced to introduce facial-recognition technology. The government has tightened restrictions and controls, and China has moved up six places in the list.”
In Nigeria last year, a reported 3530 Christians were killed — an average of ten a day, making the country the worst for violence against Christians in the world. Killing peaked during the lockdown months of April to September, Ms Blyth said.
The top ten worst countries in which to be a Christian remain little changed from previous years. After North Korea on the list is Afghanistan, followed by Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, Nigeria, and India.
Sudan left the top ten for the first time in six years, after abolishing the death penalty for apostasy and guaranteeing freedom of religion in its new constitution after three decades of Islamic law. It remains at number 13 on the list, as researchers noted that Christians from Muslim backgrounds still faced attacks, ostracism, and discrimination from their families and communities, while Christian women faced sexual violence.
India remains in the top ten for the third consecutive year because “it continues to see an increase in violence against religious minorities due to government-sanctioned Hindu extremism.”
The head of advocacy for Open Doors UK and Ireland, David Landrum, said: “The increasing persecution of Christians across the world should disturb us all. Freedom of religion is what underpins many other human rights and civil liberties. Oppressive governments know this, and they are exploiting the pandemic crisis to turn the screw on Christians.”
More than 90 MPs attended the virtual launch of the report, including the former Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who has been outspoken about the need for stronger protection.