Persecution of Christians continues to rise with 73 countries showing extreme, very high or high levels of persecution, reports the authoritative Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) for 2019.
A year ago 58 countries were listed in those categories.
Five years ago, North Korea (#1) was the only country categorised as extreme for its level of persecution of Christians. This year, same as last year, 11 countries scored enough to fit that category.
The 2019 WWL is the latest annual survey of 150 countries monitoring how difficult it is to live as a Christian. Produced by Open Doors International, and based on extensive surveys from internal and external experts, the WWL peers behind the global headlines of cases such as Pakistani, Asia Bibi, and Protestant pastor, Andrew Brunson, now freed from a Turkish prison, to find out how difficult it is to live as an active Christian in daily life.
In the 73 most-persecuted countries, Open Doors says its figures equate to 1 in every 9 Christians globally experiencing high levels of persecution. Last year it was the equivalent of 1 in 12. However, across Asia (according to the UN definition, including the Middle East), it drops to 1 in 3, while across Africa, it is 1 in 6, and in Latin America, 1 in 21.
In summary, Open Doors International estimates that, in the Top 50 countries of the WWL, around 245 million Christians experience high levels of persecution.
Christian persecution is defined by the WW methodology as, “any hostility, experienced from the world, because of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words, and actions towards Christians.”
The research methodology further distinguishes two main expressions of persecution as, “squeeze” (the pressure Christians experience in all areas of life) and “smash” (plain violence). While smash can be measured and tracked through the reporting of concrete incidents, squeeze is documented by discerning how Christian life and witness is placed under pressure in five specific spheres of life. The five spheres are private, family, community, national and church.
The WWL, seen as the most authoritative list of its kind, has been produced since 1993 and is externally audited by the International Institute of Religious Freedom (IIRF).
“The results of the Open Doors World Watch List 2019 are accurately presented within the parameters of precision reached in the processing of information. … The documentation mechanisms have been improved and the number of countries examined in-depth and presented has again been substantially increased which leads to a better coverage of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Latin America and Europe,” the IRRF audit statement says.
From a global perspective the 2019 WWL shows that persecution comes from different avenues: from a believer’s family, friends, fellow-villagers and work colleagues, community councils, local government officials and from police and legal systems.
When looking at gender, the research shows how Christian women and girls face more persecution pressure in family and social spheres, while men and boys are more likely to experience the brunt of pressure from the authorities or militias.
“This statistical evidence and research show that Christians persecution continues to rise. This reiterates the importance of Open Doors’ work in strengthening the persecuted Church globally,” said Jan Gouws, Executive Director of Open Doors Southern Africa. “The yearly World Watch List reveals the new trends in Christian persecution and helps our organisation to know where to focus our work.”
The Top 10 countries on the 2019 WWL are: #1 North Korea, #2 Afghanistan, #3 Somalia #4 Libya, #5 Pakistan, #6 Sudan, #7 Eritrea, #8 Yemen, #9 Iran, and #10 India. The full list of 50 countries is available at https://www.opendoors.org.za/#wwl-country-list
Some WWL 2019 highlights:
New laws in China (#27) and Vietnam (#20) seek to control all expression of religion. Persecution in China is the worst that it has been in more than a decade; some even say since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976.
India (#10) is at extreme and China at very high levels of persecution and these countries are home to two of the world’s most numerous Christian populations, one in a secular democracy and the other in a Communist state – both facing unprecedented persecution – albeit expressed in very different ways.
Nationalistic governments such as India and Myanmar (#18) continue to deny freedom of religion to their sizeable Christian minorities, sending the very clear message that to be Indian, one must be Hindu, or to be Burmese one must embrace Buddhism.
Southeast Asia has seen a rise in Islamic extremism where suicide bombers in Indonesia (#30) attacked three churches in one day.
In the northern and Middle Belt of Nigeria (#12), more than 3 700 Christians were killed for their faith – almost double the number of last year (an estimated 2 000) – with villages completely abandoned by Christians who were forced to flee, as their armed attackers then moved in to settle with impunity. Of the 4 136 deaths, directly related to the Christian faith, which the list reports for the Top 50 countries, Nigeria alone accounts for about 90% (3 731).
Middle-East and North Africa:
Extreme persecution also comes at the hands of radical Islamic militias, such as in Egypt (#16) – where the Islamic State in Sinai vowed in 2017 to ‘wipe out’ the Coptic Church – as well as in Libya (#4) and many other sub-Saharan countries.
Latin America, not considered by many to be a place of Christian persecution, features countries like Mexico (#39) and Colombia (#47) on the 2019 World Watch List, where Christians experience persecution that mainly comes when church leaders or Christians challenge corruption, cartels and indigenous beliefs.