Christian persecution around the world is a growing problem, says a new report from an agency that documents abuses against Christians across the globe.
Worldwide, the report states, 260 million Christians are facing persecution. This marks a 6% increase from the previous year.
The annual report from Open Doors, released Jan. 15, ranked North Korea first on its list of 50 most dangerous countries in which to be Christian, the 18th straight year that the country has received that designation.
There are an estimated 300,000 Christians amidst the total population of 25.4 million in North Korea. Open Doors reports that if North Korean Christians are discovered, the government will deport them to labor camps as political criminals or even kill them on the spot. Meeting other Christians to worship is nearly impossible unless it is done in complete secrecy.
Following North Korea on the World Watch List Top 10 are Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and India.
“Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution of Christians takes many forms, it is defined as any hostirelity experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, rape, and even death as a result of their faith,” Open Doors said in a release accompanying the report.
China featured four spots higher on the list than last year, up from number 27 in 2019 to number 23 in 2020, due in large part to the Communist government’s efforts to preserve its rule.
Christians in China experienced, among other things, an increase in attacks on churches in the past year. Open Doors reports that 793 churches were attacked within the reporting period for the 2018 World Watch List, compared with 1,847 attacks reported on churches worldwide in 2019. In 2020, the number is conservatively estimated to be at least 5,576 in China alone, the report states.
According to Open Doors, there are at least 97 million Christians in China. Policies enacted by the Communist Party in 2018 to “sinicize” the church - or adapt it to their way of thinking - have been enforced in more and more territories, resulting in the dramatic increase of persecution against Christians, the group reports.
People of faith also suffer from continual surveillance by the government. Open Doors cites a CNBC report that says there are nearly half a billion surveillance cameras in China, a number only expected to grow.
Additionally, Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from attending church, places of worship are monitored, and pastors are increasingly being asked to register with the Communist government, risking church closure and arrest if they refuse, the report continues. More than 5,500 churches in China have been closed down, and churches in at least 23 provinces have been harassed or shuttered.
There were at least 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians in India in the 2020 World Watch List reporting period, the report states. Many attacks on Christians in India are perpetrated by radical Hindus and often take the form of mob violence.
Muslim extremist groups were responsible for significant violence against Christians worldwide in the past year. For example, in Sri Lanka, 250 people died and more than 500 were injured in attacks on Catholic and Protestant churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, the report notes. In Pakistan, radical Islamist groups often are given free rein by the government, the report says.
In Iraq and Syria, hundreds of thousands of Christians— as much as 87% of the Christian population in Iraq— have been forced to flee due to civil war and the presence of militant groups such as the Islamic State.
Outside of Asia, the report took note of the plight of Christians in the African nation of Burkina Faso, which has risen 33 spots in the past year. Dozens of Catholic priests have been killed in the past year, and Protestant pastors and their families have been killed or kidnapped by violent Islamist militants.
Notably, a spate of violence in churches in Burkina Faso last summer and continuing throughout the year led to Bishop Justin Kientega of Ouahigouya saying in December that the Western world has been ignoring the plight of Christians in West Africa and has even been selling militants the weapons that they are using to kill Christians.
In total, nearly half a million people were forced to flee their homes in Burkina Faso in the last five years, and more than 60 Christians were murdered by militants in the country in 2019.
The militant Islamist group Boko Haram also maintains a presence in such countries as northern Nigeria and Cameroon.