For the last 11 years, Open Doors the charity founded in 1955 by Brother Andrew, author of God’s Smuggler has produced a list of the top 50 countries where Christians are most likely to be persecuted. This is a detailed academic exercise based on a qualitative ranking methodology to ensure it remains as accurate and reliable as possible. Today the 2013 list was published on Open Doors’ World Watch List website.
This year’s list shows that persecution of Christians is increasing across the globe but that the increase has been most dramatic in Africa. This significant trend is demonstrated by the inclusion, for the first time, of Mali in the top ten countries along with the appearance of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Niger.
In the press release to accompany the 2012 data, Open Doors give examples of what life is like for Christians living in some of these countries. It demonstrates just how hard life is for many Christians around the world and is also a reminder that in comparison Christians are blessed with a high level of religious freedom here in the UK:
As it has done every year since the list was first published 11 years ago, North Korea occupies top spot, and remains the country where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The mere possession of a Bible in North Korea is often enough reason for a Christian to be executed or sent to a prison camp with several generations of their family.
The top ten places on the World Watch List include eight countries – Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran and Yemen – where Islamic extremism poses the largest threat for Christians. Worldwide, the World Watch List reports an overall increase in the persecution of Christians in 2012.
In Africa extremist expressions of Islam have rapidly gained influence across the continent. In some instances this has led to focused attacks, such as those by terrorist organisation Boko Haram in Nigeria, while in other instances the influence of Islam has been softer, and has been carried out via the infiltration of different social and economic areas.
Mali typifies this trend. Ranked no. 7 on the new list, violence in Mali escalated after a coup in March. Eddie Lyle, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said: “Mali used to be a model country. The situation in the north was tense, but Christians and even missionaries could be active. Following the coup Christians have effectively been become ‘persona non grata’ and can no longer exist in northern states of the country.”
Violence in response to the anti-Islam film, Innocence of Muslims, contributed to the position of Niger on the list, while the rise of extremist Islam led to a rise in persecution in Ethiopia.
The situation for Christians in Syria has been well documented, and this is reflected in its elevated no. 11 ranking on the World Watch List. For many years, Christian communities were allowed the freedom to worship but not to evangelise under President Assad’s regime. They are now under attack from all sides – rebels fighting against the regime, forces loyal to the President, and jihadists entering Syria with an anti-Christian agenda – making life for Christians in the country virtually impossible. Tens of thousands of Christians have fled Syria in recent months.
However, in contrast to many areas of the world where persecution against Christians is on the increase, there are signs in China that in some government circles, Christians are now being accommodated. The government still considers the church to be a political movement and wishes to be informed of all Christian activity. However, house searches, arrests and the widescale confiscation of Bibles and Christian books rarely occurs. Despite this, more than a 100 Chinese Christians are still in prison on account of their faith.
Ron Boyd-MacMillan, Open Doors Chief Strategy Officer, summarised the significant trends highlighted by the World Watch List research. “Islamism has risen in every country that experienced the Arab Spring. This has resulted in massively increased pressure on large parts of the church in the Middle East and North Africa. Foreign jihadists now terrorise Christians in war-torn Syria, al‐Qaeda militants occupy northern Mali to make life impossible for local Christians, and even in countries like Libya that made a transition to a form of democracy, radical Islamist factions spread terror with impunity among the Christian minority.
“The trends are not uniformly gloomy however. In the Far East, with the exception of North Korea, the Communist states in Laos, Vietnam and China all marginally improved their treatment of Christians.”