Persecuted Christian minorities around the world are at heightened risk due to a wave of conspiracy theories blaming them for the spread of COVID-19.

In Somalia, the radical Islamist al-Shabaab group told Muslims that coronavirus is spread by the crusader forces (read: Christians) who have invaded the country and the disbelieving countries that support them”.

In Russia, state TV station Channel One falsely reported that an evangelical church in St Petersburg had continued to meet after the lockdown and had caused mass infections in the area. The report led to an attempted arson attack on another evangelical church.

Radicalised Muslims in Yumbe, Northern Uganda, have blamed Christians for causing the coronavirus. They allege that Christians in China burnt the Qur’an. As a result, Allah is punishing humans with sickness. They have threatened to put to death any person who is first identified to be positive with the coronavirus.

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Open Doors spokesperson Jo Newhouse, who works to support and speak up for persecuted Christians around the world, says, It’s distressing to hear of the blaming of Christians for the COVID-19 pandemic in places where the body of Christ is already under immense pressure. We call on the Government to do all in its power to counter the spreading of misinformation and to make sure that all minorities are adequately protected against violence, especially in remote areas.”

Christians are just one group that have become the target in the current wave of conspiracies, which have also target Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ and even 5G radio masts. Ron Boyd MacMillan, head of strategic research for Open Doors, says, Ever since a plague that ravaged the Roman Empire in 180AD, Christians have been unfairly blamed for natural disasters like these with a rise in persecution.” 

Ron adds, Sometimes the scapegoating is a political ploy – to distract from government mishandling of the crisis; sometimes a cynical ploy by existing persecutors to deal a death blow to a community they hate. COVID-19 is enough of a crisis without seeking to weaken society further in this way.” 

However, there are signs that the conspiracies are being challenged. In Somalia, the Government, teachers and mosque leaders have been sent to stand with loudspeakers at every gathering place, to spread the word on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

While Islamic militants are spreading the claim that the virus cannot be picked up by true Muslims, the Imams are being encouraged to speak about the necessity of social distancing and how Islam encourages cleanliness.

It will take the leaders of all religions (and of none) to come together in the best ethics of their traditions,” says Ron Boyd-MacMillan. They will strengthen their societies by exposing falsehoods and increasing cooperation.” 

Henrietta Blyth, the CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, says, Open Doors is hearing many disturbing reports from around the world at this time,” adds. Christians need our support more than ever. While they are being reviled and forgotten, it means so much to them that their brothers and sisters in Christ haven’t forgotten them.”

Find out what Open Doors is doing to support persecuted Christians during the pandemic and how you can support the charity’s work during the crisis.

Photo by Rohan Reddy

It’s distressing to hear of the blaming of Christians for the COVID-19 pandemic in places where the body of Christ is already under immense pressure.