North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan remain in the top five places where it is hardest to be a Christian, according to new research by Christian charity OpenDoors. But the rise in attacks by Hindu extremists in India and tough new laws in China have seen believers in world’s two most populous countries face “extreme” and “very high” levels of persecution respectively. The study concluded that some 245 million Christians experience high levels of persecution in 73 countries around the world – up from 215 million in 58 countries last year.
Open Doors UK and Ireland CEO Henrietta Blyth said: “Our research uncovers a shocking increase in the persecution of Christians globally.
“In China our figures indicate persecution is the worst it’s been in more than a decade – alarmingly, some church leaders are saying it’s the worst since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976.
“Worldwide, our data reveals that 13.9 percent more Christians are experiencing high levels of persecution than last year.
“That’s 30 million more people.”
The World Watch List study identified North Korea as the most difficult place to be a Christian for the 18th year running.
Religion is outlawed in the secretive state because citizens are taught there is no higher authority than the Kim family.
Those found to be practising Christianity are arrested and sent to one of North Korea’s brutal labour camps for ‘re-education’.
Conditions in the gulags are so difficult inmates risk being worked to death, dying of starvation or being killed by the country’s freezing winters.
Afghanistan is ranked as the second most persecuted country, with the thousands of Christians living there forced to keep their faith completely secret.
Those who are discovered to be practising Christianity face being sent to mental hospitals by loved ones because of the belief that no sane person would leave Islam, according to OpenDoors.
They also face being attacked or killed by family members, the charity said, or murdered by Islamic extremist groups like the Taliban.
The 3.9million Christians in Pakistan also face “extreme” levels of persecution, the research found, as those practising the faith are seen as “unclean”.
The country’s penal code carries struct blasphemy laws which can lead to lengthy prison sentences or a death sentence.
Pakistani Christian Aasia Bibi served eight years on death row after a row in 2009 after two Muslim women refused to drink water from the same container as a Christian.
She was later accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2010 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, charges she vehemently denied.
The OpenDoors study ranked India as the 10th most difficult place to practice Christianity in 2019, with Christians facing “horrific levels of violence from extremists”.
Research by the charity found thousands of attacks take place each year with the ruling Hindu nationalist party promoting “anti-conversion” laws.
The laws have been adopted by eight of India’s 29 states and are frequently cited as justification for attacks on Christians.
Under the continued premiership of Xi Jinping, China has risen 16 places on OpenDoors’ World Watch List to 27.
The country’s 100 million Christians suffer a “high” level of persecution, the charity said, as Beijing tightens its grip on religious freedom in the world’s most populous country.
New rules introduced by the Chinese government are “the most restrictive in 13 years”, according to OpenDoors, with strict legal limits on religious expression which can lead to harsh punishments if breached.