Sharp rise in persecution of Christians in Africa

Open Doors publishes 50 worst persecutors list
Islamist militia in Northern Mali, an African country which has seen an alarming rise in persecution of Christians by radical Muslims.

Persecution of Christians in Africa enormously increased in 2012, according to the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith.  Countries on the African continent sharply increased on the World Watch List, due to the increasing influence of Islam, states Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians worldwide. Mali is a newcomer on the list and holds the seventh position. Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Niger also enter the World Watch List and Ethiopia is one of the strongest risers on the list. Every year, Open Doors compiles a list of fifty countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith.

North Korea is still the number 1 when it comes to persecution of Christians. For the 11th consecutive year, the communist country heads the list. Possessing a Bible alone can be a reason for you to be executed or sent to a prison camp along with his or her family. It is estimated that between 50.000 and 70.000 Christians suffer in horrific prison camps. The intense persecution has continued under new leader Kim Jong-Un. The number of defectors to China greatly decreased in 2012 and half of those who try to defect do not make it.  

Apart from North Korea, the top-10 on the World Watch List consists of eight countries where islamization poses the largest threat for Christians. Worldwide, Open Doors sees an increase in the persecution of Christians. A number of countries is descending on the World Watch List, not necessarily because the situation has improved but because the persecution in other countries has increased.

Attacks and infiltration

The most remarkable development Open Doors researchers could distinguish is the increase of persecution in Africa. Fundamentalist variations of Islam rapidly gain influence on the continent. On the one hand, this is due to focused attacks, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria. On the other, the influence of Islam increases through infiltration in different social and economic areas. Open Doors sees a similar pattern in several African countries.

“We do not necessarily distinguish one overall plan from one source in the whole of Africa. However, we do see that radical Islamic groups are patiently waiting for the right time to show their power,” Gerrit Coetzee, CEO of Open Doors South Africa, explains. “Apart from the pattern of violent attacks, we see that radical Muslims are infiltrating in politics, business and the judicial power, such as introducing Sharia family courts. On a number of occasions, Muslims were ready to step into a power vacuum. Take Mali, for example, where Touareg rebels and Muslim fundamentalists gained power in April 2012.”

Consequences of the Arab Spring

In Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Egypt, Islamic parties also gained power after the fall of their secular predecessors. “Two years after the beginning of the Arab Spring, it has become clear that Christians have entered into an Arab Winter. The wind that has started blowing in the Middle East might have crossed over to the South and paved the way of fundamentalist groups in Africa as well”, says Gerrit Coetzee.

Mali was a model country

Of the African countries, Mali is the most noticeable newcomer on the World Watch List since it suddenly entered into the top-10. Open Doors had already been closely monitoring other newcomers, such as Kenya and Uganda. Up to now, these countries had fallen just outside the World Watch List but the way the situation in Mali escalated after the March coup shocked Open Doors. “Mali used to be a model country. The situation in the North used to be a bit tense but Christians and even missionaries could be active. Currently, we can state that the situation in Northern Mali is somehow similar to Saudi Arabia, number 2 on the World Watch List. Christians are simply no longer allowed to be there”, states Gerrit.

Christians on the run

A pastor from the northern part of Mali told Open Doors that he was informed that Muslim fundamentalists were planning to kill all Christians. He warned all his congregation members to leave. That happened. Hundreds of Christians have fled from the north. “If this information had come to us later, the consequences could have been very serious. This violence could have resulted in mass slaughter. Not long after the warning, radical Muslims attacked the homes of Christians. Their houses were either destroyed or taken by the attackers.”

Ethiopia rises 23 places

Ethiopia jumped to No. 15 on the World Watch List, compared to 38 last year. The main source of persecution in this country used to be the Orthodox Church that suppressed the new Protestant churches. Now, Islamization has been coming forward as the main threat in this East-African coastal nation. Niger is a newcomer on the World Watch List and holds the 50th position. While there does not appear to be a direct correlation, there were violent outbursts following the anti-Islam movie Innocence of Muslims in the country. Open Doors researchers also witnessed that the violence in Nigeria crosses over to Niger. In Niger, Islamic extremists groups are also active.

Suppression from a minority

This year’s World Watch List shows that persecution of Christians does not necessarily only occur in countries where Christians account for a few percent of the population. Risers on the World Watch List are countries where Muslims and Christians are fairly evenly divided among the population, or where Christians are even the majority in a country, such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. The working method is cunningly similar: spread over the country footholds are posted where radical Muslims take their place and do not tolerate anything or anyone with a different belief or religion. The geographical increase of such footholds squeezes Christians and makes life impossible for them. Increase is through violent and non-violent actions. Life is especially difficult for Christians with a Muslim background.

“This is happening in Tanzania, and also in Kenya and Uganda  where Christians up to now have still been a majority. These places are the operating bases and from there radical Muslims try to gain ground. This World Watch List’s main story is not that Boko Haram and other terrorist organizations are the main source of persecution. Yes, there is much violence but the pattern of infiltration and strategic positioning is paving the way for radical Muslims to gain influence in society. That pattern is the main threat to Christians living there,” says Gerrit.

Syria makes big jump

Outside of Mali, Syria made the largest jump on the World Watch List. The country is now 11 on the list, compared to being 36 last year. For years, Christians were allowed the freedom to worship but not evangelize under the Assad regime. They have now come under pressure from rebels fighting against the regime. To add to this, jihadists entered Syria with an anti-Christian agenda making life for Christians in the country virtually impossible. Tens of thousands of Christians have fled.

China’s continuing descent

China continues its descent on the World Watch List. Five years ago, the country was still part of the top-10, but now it has dropped from 21 to 37. 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 confiscation of Bibles and Christian books no longer occur at a large scale. Instead, the government forces many church leaders to keep accounting for their whereabouts. A way to keep them subdued and under control. At least 100 Chinese Christians are still in prison. It is less than a few years ago but Christians in China still do not enjoy full freedom.

Other countries drop in list

In Bhutan, Open Doors also saw an improvement compared to 2011. Christians in the Asian country have more freedom to come together without being harassed. Their situation in urban areas is better than in rural areas. Open Doors researchers are positive but also cautious when it comes to these developments. An anti-conversion law is in the making and it is hanging above the Christians’ head as a sword of Damocles.

A number of other countries have also descended on the list. Iran has descended to No. 8 while two years ago, the Islamic Republic was number 2 on the World Watch List. Uzbekistan is no longer in the top-10 and is now 16th on the list. Gerrit Coetzee: “This does not necessarily mean that the situation in these countries has improved. China is the only country with a noticeable improvement, but in a number of cases, countries simply descend because other countries rise. This applies to Iran, for example.”

Difficult situation in Egypt

Egypt has also descended on the World Watch List, going from 15 to 25. Nevertheless, the country’s score does not show any improvement. The descent is a result of Open Doors’ change in methodology to monitor and chart the persecution of Christians. Egypt has a Church with freedom to exist. The Coptic Church has over 10 million members. The Christians with a Muslim background are facing the most serious problems. Apart from that, Egypt is going through a difficult stage. It seems like extreme Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, are gaining more power but only in 2013 will we be able to see what the consequences will be of the implementation of the new constitution.

Change in methodology

More than ever before, the World Watch List provides an insight in the overall spectrum of the persecution of Christians in all spheres of life (private life, family life, community life, national life and church life). The freedom to come together and the degree in which Christians are exposed to acts of violence are also included in the monitoring. This results in a balanced scoring, taking into account both the impact of (violent) incidents and less visible, structural developments threatening the position of Christians.

65 Countries

Christians are persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ in at least 65 countries. Every year, Open Doors publishes the World Watch List, illustrating the countries where Christians are most persecuted. For almost 60 years, Open Doors has supported persecuted Christians. Open Doors brings bibles and Christian literature, provides training and practical aid to Christians persecuted for their faith.

* View complete list of the 50 countries

One Comment

  1. Heb 13:3 Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.

    Islam is now entrenched in South African society, and the church is a sleep. According to Islam, if SA falls, then the rest of Africa falls.

    Who will go for God? Entering into the gap for our beloved nation???