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13 January 2014

Fear and faith: global persecution of Christians increases

Fear and faith: global persecution of Christians increases

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation, according to a new report. 

Since 2002 Open Doors, an Alliance member, has published a World Watch List which ranks the 50 countries in the world where Christians are most persecuted. 

Their 2014 report covering the 12-month period ending 31 October 2013 shows that North Korea remains at the top of the list and that failing states where militant Islamic movements flourish are fertile ground for increased persecution of believers.

In North Korea the anti-Christian regime has pushed the Church – believed to have up to 400,000 believers - completely underground. Of these, between 50,000 and 70,000 are held in Nazi-like concentration camps and prisons.

Of the top 10 countries on the list, all but North Korea are majority Muslim. Continuing a 15-year trend, militant Islam is a growing source of pressure on Christians, and has become the primary driver of persecution in 36 of the 50 countries on the list.

The result is especially violent in sub-Saharan Africa. Five sub-Saharan countries rank among the 10 most violent countries for Christians in 2013: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Eritrea, and Sudan and Somalia, which, at number two, is the first sub-Saharan nation to rank at the top of the World Watch List.

Somalia is largely governed by militia-backed clans, not a central government, and prominent Islamic leaders regularly proclaim there is no place for Christians in the country.

In September 2012 democratic elections paved the way for greater stability and Mogadishu is slowly coming back to life as it is re-built.

However, not all the change has been welcome for Christians. In the relative calm they realise that their activities are much more easily detected. For them the new constitution also brought hardly any respite. Somalia is still an Islamic country ruled by Islamic law. As followers of Christ, they are breakers of the law and liable to arrest and even death on discovery.

The Central African Republic joined the list for the first time at number 16, having spiralled into anarchy since the March overthrow of the government by an Islamist-dominated rebel coalition. In the months since, rebel attacks on Christian villages have killed thousands and driven up to a million people from their homes.

Pressure on Christians intensified in a number of other countries in 2013 where sectarian violence has advanced unchecked by impotent central governments.  

Six countries in the top 10 have governments that exert little or no control. These are: Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

Syria is number three, up from number 11 a year ago. The continuing civil war has afflicted all segments of society who get caught up in the Syrian civil war. Christians have paid an especially high price. In October, Islamist militias killed 46 Christians in Sadad.

Before the war Christians were a tolerated minority with relative freedom. However, after almost three years of civil war, the Christians find themselves caught in-between the fighting factions.

Beyond Africa and the Middle East, several Asian countries climbed the list. India rose from number 31 in 2013 to number 28 in the current list as the Hindu nationalist movement behind the Bharatiya Janata Party broadened its reach.

Two Asian countries not included on the 2013 list are included in 2014. Sri Lanka ranked number 29, due largely to increased violence and the emergence of a Buddhist extremist movement that has targeted Christians and Muslims. Bangladesh is number 48, primarily because of a new Islamist extremist group demanding the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law.
“It cannot be right that amid such widespread and ongoing persecution of Christians, many of the international community simply look away,” says Lisa Pearce of Open Doors UK and Ireland. “This shocking research demonstrates how important it is that church and government do more to protect religious liberty, a fundamental human right.”  

Dr Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Open Doors International’s chief strategy officer, said: “The World Watch List is more than a set of numbers, it must also be seen as a human document, reflecting millions of sad and also amazing stories of fear and faith.”

The Open Doors World Watch List is the only annual global survey of Christian religious freedom and is audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom.

To encourage your church to pray for the persecuted Church, consider showing the Religious Liberty Commission's three-minute video in your church service or small group.