"Perhaps the most disturbing trend is that, since the inception of the World Watch List, the persecution of Christians has nearly doubled..."
The Never Ending ‘Pandemic’: 360 Million Christians Persecuted Worldwide
by Raymond Ibrahim, 2/8/2023
originally published at Gatestone Institute
In 2022, 5,621 Christian around the world were “killed for faith related reasons.” Another 4,542 Christians were illegally detained or arrested, and 2,110 churches were attacked, many destroyed. Over all, the global persecution of Christians remains higher than ever, with 360 million believers suffering high levels of discrimination and violence.
These are among some of the findings of the World Watch List-2023, which was recently published by the international humanitarian organization, Open Doors. Each year the report ranks the top 50 nations where Christians are most persecuted for their faith by using data from approximately 4,000 field workers and external experts to quantify and analyze persecution worldwide.
Crunching some numbers, the report finds that, on average, one in seven Christians (14%) are persecuted around the world. In Africa, that number grows to one in five (20%), while in Asia it is as much as two in five—meaning a whopping 40% of all Christians are persecuted there.
Christians suffer “extreme levels of persecution” in the top 11 of the 50 nations. This ranges from being assaulted, raped, imprisoned or slaughtered on being identified as a Christian or attending (usually underground) churches.
Those nations and their respective rankings are: 1) North Korea, 2) Somalia, 3) Yemen, 4) Eritrea, 5) Libya, 6) Nigeria, 7) Pakistan, 8) Iran, 9) Afghanistan, 10) Sudan, 11) India.
Coming in at #1, the absolute worst nation is North Korea, “with the highest levels of persecution ever seen,” says the report:
If discovered by the authorities, believers are either sent to labour camps as political prisoners where the conditions are atrocious, or killed on the spot—and their families will share their fate as well. Christians have absolutely no freedom…. A new ‘anti-reactionary thought law’ makes it amply clear that being a Christian or possessing a Bible is a serious crime and will be severely punished.
Most of the “extreme persecution” meted out to Christians in nine of the top 11 worst nations continues, however, to come either from Islamic oppression, or takes place in Muslim-majority nations. This means that approximately 80% of the absolute worst persecution around the globe takes place in the name of Islam.
This trend affects the entire list, not just the top 11: the persecution that Christians experience in 39 of the 50 nations also comes either from Islamic oppression or occurs in Muslim majority nations. The overwhelming majority of these nations are governed by some form of shari‘a (Islamic law). It can either be directly enforced by government or society or, more frequently, both, although societies—family members outraged in particular by relatives who have converted—tend to be more zealous in its application.
Moreover, though the persecution in North Korea is worse, there is, at least, a light at the end of the tunnel for Christians in that nation, as their ill treatment is entirely connected to the regime of Kim Jong-un. Once he is gone, North Korea may well become like South Korea, where Christianity is flourishing. On the other hand, the Muslim persecution of Christians is perennial, existential, and far transcends this or that regime or ruler. It is part of the history, doctrines, and socio-political makeup of Islam—hence its tenacity and ubiquity.
In the worst of the Muslim nations, Christianity has been so stamped out over the years that there are no indigenous Christians to persecute, only converts—apostates, which, according to most interpretations of Islamic law, deserve death.
In Somalia (#2), for example, “Imams in mosques and madrassas state publicly that there is no room for Christianity, Christians or churches. The violent insurgent group al-Shabaab has repeatedly expressed its desire to eradicate Christians from the country. Christians from Muslim backgrounds are regarded as high-value targets and may be killed on the spot if discovered.”
Similarly, in Yemen (#3), “The population is overwhelmingly Muslim and it is illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity”:
Yemeni Christian converts are at great risk of being killed, not just ostracised or expelled, by their families, clans and tribes. Islamic extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and so-called Islamic State threaten so-called ‘apostates’ with death if they do not return to Islam. In other areas, including those controlled by Houthis, converts risk imprisonment. In detention centres, Christian detainees have reportedly suffered physical and mental torture.
In most Muslim nations on the list, one or all of three segments of society—Muslim authorities, Muslim mobs, or Muslim terrorists—persecute Christians to varying degrees.
In Libya (#5), jihadists are chiefly responsible. The North African nation is
a lawless land where both native Christians and those passing through from other countries face extreme violence. With no central government to maintain law and order, militant Islamic extremist groups and organised crime groups both wield power. They target and kidnap Christians, and some believers have been killed.
On the other hand, in Iran (#8), which is “ruled by an increasingly strict Islamic regime,” the authorities are chiefly responsible:
Iranian house church leaders and members have received long prison sentences involving physical and mental abuse. Iranian Christians may be banned from education, lose their jobs and find it very difficult to get back into employment. For women, the situation is even more precarious because Iranian law grants women few rights. For trusting in Jesus, they are likely to be violently punished or divorced by their husbands and have their children taken away from them, if their faith is discovered.
In Afghanistan (#9), Islamic terrorists—who also happen to be the authorities—are chiefly responsible:
The Taliban’s takeover of power in August 2021 has forced most Christians either further underground or away from the country entirely. Many (if not all) house groups closed, with believers forced to leave behind everything they own. More than a year after the Taliban’s takeover, any promises they made about recognising freedoms have proved to be false. Following Jesus remains a death sentence, if discovered.
In Pakistan (#7), every rung of society is responsible for the persecution:
Christians in Pakistan are considered second-class citizens and face discrimination in every aspect of life. Jobs that are seen as low, dirty and degrading are reserved for Christians by the authorities, who continue to push them to the margins of society. They lack proper representation in politics … [and] there are almost constant attacks against individuals. Many do not feel safe to worship freely…. [R]oughly a quarter of all blasphemy accusations target Christians, who only make up 1.8% of the population. The number of blasphemy cases is increasing, as is the number of Christian (and other minority religion) girls being abducted, abused and forcibly converted to Islam.
Similarly, in Egypt (#35), which is “very high” in persecution, Christians “report that freedom of religion violations are mostly experienced in the community”:
Incidents vary from Christian women being harassed while walking in the street, to a mob of angry Muslims forcing a whole community of Christians to move out, leaving their houses and belongings to be confiscated…. President al-Sisi regularly speaks positively about Egypt’s Christian community. However, the lack of serious law enforcement and the unwillingness of local authorities to protect Christians leave them vulnerable to all kinds of attacks, especially in Upper Egypt. Communal hostility and mob violence, in particular, continue to cause difficulties.
Perhaps the most disturbing trend is that, since the inception of the WWL, the persecution of Christians has nearly doubled:
Since 1993, the World Watch List has revealed the scale and severity of the persecution of Christians. In the last 30 years, the number of countries where Christians suffer high and extreme levels of persecution has almost doubled to 76 countries. Today, more than 360m Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith. In Open Doors’ World Watch List top 50 alone, 312m Christians face very high or extreme levels.
[. . .]
Last year, 360 million Christians around the world also experienced “high levels of persecution and discrimination.” That number represented a 6% increase from 2021, when 340 million Christians experienced the same degree of persecution; and that number represented a 31 % increase from 2020, when 260 million Christians experienced the same level of persecution; and that number represented a 6% increase from 2019, when 245 million experienced the same level of persecution; and that number represented a 14% increase from 2018, when 215 million was the number.
In short, the persecution of Christians, which was already horrific, has already increased by nearly 70% over the last six years, with no signs of abating. For the first time since the inception of the WWL thirty years ago, Nicaragua (#50) has now made the list.
How long before this seemingly irreversible trend metastasizes into even those nations currently celebrated for their religious freedom?