Persecuted for Christ

by Gerry Lynch last modified 12 Jan, 2017 08:17 PM

Annual report shows religious nationalism driving up levels of persecution of Christians

Religious nationalism is sweeping the globe according to figures released this week as part of the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List, the annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.

“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,” said Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland, a charity which raises awareness of the persecution of Christians and supports its victims.

North Korea, which has topped the list for over 15 years, remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian, with an estimated 70,000 Christians imprisoned inside North Korean labour camps. The other countries the NGO estimates to make up the ten worst in the world to be Christian are: Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea.

However, the greatest increase in persecution of Christians has been in South and South East Asian countries including Laos, Bangladesh, India and Vietnam.

Ms Pearce commented, “This year there is a clear pattern of rising religious intolerance across the Indian sub-continent which affects many millions of Christians. Religious nationalists attempt to forcibly convert people to the dominant faith of their nation, often turning to violence when community discrimination and non-violent oppression do not succeed in imposing their religious beliefs on minority Christians. These Christians are often from the lower castes, such as the Dalits in India, who face huge socio-economic problems – they are an easy target for extreme nationalists.”

Emerging superpower India, the second most populous country in the world, has seen persecution levels rise dramatically for the fourth year running, rising to number 15 this year from a ranking of 31 in 2013. Open Doors researchers have recorded over 15 violent attacks on Christians every week – this is a conservative figure as many victims are too scared to report attacks.

Persecution affects millions of Indian Christians, sometimes involving verbal harassment and other nuisance, but sometimes ending in violence.

The situation varies across the vast country, with historically well-established Christian communities in religiously mixed areas continuing to worship freely and enjoy a high social standing, even while converts from Hinduism in areas with very small Christian populations are very vulnerable.

Across the Himalayas, China also sees considerable variation from one region to another, with liberalisation in some provinces and crackdowns, including the removal of crosses from churches and police harassment of clergy in others. Some Communist Party officials have stated that Christianity makes a valuable contribution to China, encouraging honesty and respect for the law. Overall the world’s most populous country has seen a fall in the rankings from 33 to 39.

These figures show that persecution levels in Somalia are nearly as high as in North Korea, where to be a Christian is almost impossible. Yet thousands of Christians continue to worship, keeping their faith secret. Islam is Somalia’s state religion and all Christians come from a Muslim background - despite conversion being illegal and punishable by death. They face persecution from Islamic extremists as well as from family and friends. Lisa Pearce commented: “If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they are unlikely to live to see another day. Just the suspicion that someone is a Christian can lead to a rushed beheading.”

There have been sharp rises in persecution in parts of Africa, especially in the region just south of the Sahara which has traditionally marked the boundary between Muslim and Christian majority areas. Mali has seen a dramatic rise in persecution, rising twelve places in the ranking to 32 in 2017, up from 44 in 2016. Neighbouring Mauritania, an Islamic Republic where Christianity is forbidden, has also joined the ranking at 47 in 2017 from outside the top 50 in 2016.

Somalia and Sudan also saw sharp rises in levels of persecution last year with large numbers of refugees in countries torn apart by war and unrest. Political instability often allows intolerance and persecution to flourish. 

An increasingly common form of religious persecution is the deliberate sabotage of homes, churches and villages by extremists aiming to eradicate Christianity from a particular area. In parts of northern Nigeria, cattle have been deliberately stolen and crops burned to make returning all but impossible unless significant aid and investment is pumped into the area of need. In addition, frequent so called ‘lone-wolf’ attacks by extremists make those equipped to effect change and rebuild fearful for their safety and the safety of their families.

In many parts of Syria and Iraq the situation remains dire, although nearly all Christians have now left Islamic State-controlled territory. Aleppo was home to 400,000 Christians at the start of the civil war – now Open Doors estimates that less than 60,000 Christians remain with families still leaving every day. The few Christians who stay are largely in Christian enclaves; outside these areas they are targets for radical extremists.

In Iraq, Christians are preparing to return to villages that have been liberated if, with some already returning to villages in the Nineveh Plain with the assistance of Kurdish Muslims. Working parties are planning to rebuild once the damage and danger is assessed. However, many Christians from Mosul and the surrounding villages are very fearful of returning home as many have memories of their neighbours betraying them to so called Islamic State.

The 2017 world persecution map from Open Doors can be downloaded here.

Religious nationalism is sweeping the globe according to figures released this week as part of the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List, the annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.

“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,” said Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland, a charity which raises awareness of the persecution of Christians and supports its victims.

North Korea, which has topped the list for over 15 years, remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian, with an estimated 70,000 Christians imprisoned inside North Korean labour camps. The other countries the NGO estimates to make up the ten worst in the world to be Christian are: Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea.

However, the greatest increase in persecution of Christians has been in South and South East Asian countries including Laos, Bangladesh, India and Vietnam.

Ms Pearce commented, “This year there is a clear pattern of rising religious intolerance across the Indian sub-continent which affects many millions of Christians. Religious nationalists attempt to forcibly convert people to the dominant faith of their nation, often turning to violence when community discrimination and non-violent oppression do not succeed in imposing their religious beliefs on minority Christians. These Christians are often from the lower castes, such as the Dalits in India, who face huge socio-economic problems – they are an easy target for extreme nationalists.”

Emerging superpower India, the second most populous country in the world, has seen persecution levels rise dramatically for the fourth year running, rising to number 15 this year from a ranking of 31 in 2013. Open Doors researchers have recorded over 15 violent attacks on Christians every week – this is a conservative figure as many victims are too scared to report attacks.

Persecution affects millions of Indian Christians, sometimes involving verbal harassment and other nuisance, but sometimes ending in violence.

The situation varies across the vast country, with historically well-established Christian communities in religiously mixed areas continuing to worship freely and enjoy a high social standing, even while converts from Hinduism in areas with very small Christian populations are very vulnerable.

Across the Himalyas, China also sees considerable variation from one region to another, with liberalisation in some provinces and crackdowns, including the removal of crosses from churches and police harassment of clergy in others. Some Communist Party officials have stated that Christianity makes a valuable contribution to China, encouraging honesty and respect for the law. Overall the world’s most populous country has seen a fall in the rankings from 33 to 39.

 

These figures show that persecution levels in Somalia are nearly as high as in North Korea, where to be a Christian is almost impossible. Yet thousands of Christians continue to worship, keeping their faith secret. Islam is Somalia’s state religion and all Christians come from a Muslim background - despite conversion being illegal and punishable by death. They face persecution from Islamic extremists as well as from family and friends. Lisa Pearce commented: “If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they are unlikely to live to see another day. Just the suspicion that someone is a Christian can lead to a rushed beheading.”

There have been sharp rises in persecution in parts of Africa, especially in the region just south of the Sahara which has traditionally marked the boundary between Muslim and Christian majority areas. Mali has seen a dramatic rise in persecution, rising twelve places in the ranking to 32 in 2017, up from 44 in 2016. Neighbouring Mauritania, an Islamic Republic where Christianity is forbidden, has also joined the ranking at 47 in 2017 from outside the top 50 in 2016.

Somalia and Sudan also saw sharp rises in levels of persecution last year with large numbers of refugees in countries torn apart by war and unrest. Political instability often allows intolerance and persecution to flourish. 

An increasingly common form of religious persecution is the deliberate sabotage of homes, churches and villages by extremists aiming to eradicate Christianity from a particular area. In parts of northern Nigeria, cattle have been deliberately stolen and crops burned to make returning all but impossible unless significant aid and investment is pumped into the area of need. In addition, frequent so called ‘lone-wolf’ attacks by extremists make those equipped to effect change and rebuild fearful for their safety and the safety of their families.

In many parts of Syria and Iraq the situation remains dire, although nearly all Christians have now left Islamic State-controlled territory. Aleppo was home to 400,000 Christians at the start of the civil war – now Open Doors estimates that less than 60,000 Christians remain with families still leaving every day. The few Christians who stay are largely in Christian enclaves; outside these areas they are targets for radical extremists.

In Iraq, Christians are preparing to return to villages that have been liberated if, with some already returning to villages in the Nineveh Plain with the assistance of Kurdish Muslims. Working parties are planning to rebuild once the damage and danger is assessed. However, many Christians from Mosul and the surrounding villages are very fearful of returning home as many have memories of their neighbours betraying them to so called Islamic State.

The full report from Open Doors can be read here.

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