Global persecution of Christians has risen for the fourth year in a row and is on a “rapid rise” in Asia, the advocacy group Open Doors UK warned on Wednesday in its annual report on Christian persecution.
“Religious nationalism is sweeping the globe according to figures released today as part of the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List,” said Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland.
“Persecution levels have been rising rapidly across Asia and the Indian subcontinent, driven by extreme religious nationalism which is often tacitly condoned, and sometimes actively encouraged, by local and national governments.”
On Wednesday, the group Open Doors released its annual World Watch List on the state of global persecution of Christians. The list ranks the countries where the worst persecutions of Christians are taking place based on information gathered from field workers and “independent experts.”
Open Doors was founded in 1955 by a Dutchman named Brother Andrew who smuggled Bibles into Communist Eastern Europe. Since then, the organization has grown to aid Christians in 50 countries by sending them Bibles and other needed materials, and speaking out for their well-being.
Overall persecution of Christians has risen from last year, Open Doors UK noted, stating that “Christians are being killed for their faith in more countries than before.”
“Christians living in these countries need the support of their family, the body of Christ, to help them stand firm in their faith,” they stated.
Pakistan had the most fatal attacks against Christians, “even more than Northern Nigeria,” the report noted. Mexico also saw a violent spike in the killings of 23 Christian leaders in 2016, including the abductions of several priests. The country has seen 15 priests killed since the election of current President Enrique Pena Nieto in 2012.
For the 16th consecutive year, Communist dictatorship North Korea was determined to be the “worst place on earth for Christians,” Open Doors UK said. There are 300,000 Christians amidst the population of 25.4 million.
Christians there suffer from a totalitarian police state that closely monitors their actions and requires them to worship the ruling family, the report said. They must pray privately. Those discovered by the state to be Christian may end up in harsh labor camps where an estimated 50-75,000 Christians currently suffer.
“Every day was as if God was pouring out all ten plagues on us simultaneously,” revealed one Christian women who was held captive in the camps but escaped. “That’s how hard it was. But God also comforted me and brought a secret fellowship into existence. Every Sunday we would gather in the toilets and pray.”
All top 10 countries with the worst persecution of Christians are in Asia and Africa. Somalia ranks second on the list, followed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea.
Somalia, ranked the second-worst country for persecution of Christians, “has persecution levels nearly as high as in North Korea,” Open Doors UK noted.
“Islam is Somalia's state religion and all Christians come from a Muslim background,” they explained, meaning that for converts to Christianity, if their conversion is discovered, it can mean persecution and even a “rushed beheading.”
“If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they are unlikely to live to see another day,” Lisa Pearce stated. There are only hundreds of Christians in the country with a population of over 11 million.
At least 12 Christian converts were killed in Somalia in 2016, the report said. The country is ruled by a “tribal system” and is “basically lawless,” which means that entities like the militant group al-Shabaab can “persecute Christians with impunity.”
Afghanistan is number three on the list, another tribal country where being a Christian is illegal. The Islamic republic of Pakistan is fourth, where more Christians were recorded as killed for their faith in 2016 than any other country. There are almost 4 million Christians there amidst the population of over 196 million.
An estimated 700 Christian women and girls were abducted in 2016, many of them raped and forced to marry Muslim men. The country’s strict blasphemy laws – which carry a death sentence – enable mob violence against Christians and accusations of blasphemy committed with impunity.
Persecution of Christians has had a disturbing increase in Asia, Open Doors noted, including in the world’s second-most populated country of India where there are 15 attacks against Christians every week, and probably more than that number since some attacks are not reported by fearful victims.
There were “at least ten” abductions of Christians there in 2016, ten rapes of Christian women, and over 800 physical attacks on Christians, the report said. Laos, Bangladesh, and Vietnam have also seen greater persecution of Christians by religious nationalists.
In the Middle East, Christians have been “caught in the crossfire” of wars in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. “The Saudi-backed civil war in Yemen has reduced the country to a waste land, with many Christians caught in the crossfire, such as the 16 people killed in an attack on a Christian care home for the elderly and disabled,” the report said.
Other problems of persecution include Islamic extremism in sub-Saharan Africa, and attempts to destroy the homes of Christians who have been driven away by violence, in the hopes that they permanently resettle elsewhere.