Every day, 8 Christians worldwide are killed because of their faith.
Every week, 182 churches or Christian buildings are attacked.
And every month, 309 Christians are imprisoned unjustly.
So reports the 2020 World Watch List (WWL), the latest annual accounting from Open Doors of the top 50 countries where Christians are the most persecuted for their faith.
The listed nations comprise 260 million Christians suffering high to severe levels of persecution, up from 245 million in the 2019 list.
Another 50 million could be added from 23 nations outside the top 50 (such as Mexico, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo), for a ratio of 1 in 8 Christians worldwide facing persecution.
Last year, 40 nations scored high enough to register “very high” persecution levels. This year it reached 45.
Open Doors has monitored Christian persecution worldwide since 1992. North Korea has ranked No. 1 since 2002, when the WWL began. (The 2020 version tallies the time period from November 1, 2018 to October 31, 2019.)
Last year, CT noted “Asia Rising” as India entered the top 10 for the first time while China rose from No. 43 to No. 27.
That trend continues, as 2 in 5 Asian Christians suffered high levels of persecution last year, up from 1 in 3 the previous reporting period. China’s crackdown on both state-sanctioned and underground churches and its growing surveillance network added 16 million to the worldwide tally of Christians facing persecution.
This year the top 10 is relatively unchanged. After North Korea, Afghanistan ranks No. 2, followed by Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and India.
Open Doors tracks persecution across six categories, including both social and governmental pressure on individuals, families, and congregations.
But when violence is isolated as a category, the top 10 persecutors shifts dramatically—only Pakistan and India remain.
Five of the most violent countries for Christians are located in the Sahel, a horizontal belt of semi-arid grazing areas and farmland located between the Sahara Desert and the African savannah.
Militant Islamist rebel groups and terrorists have proliferated in the Sahel in recent years. Conflict between Muslim herders and Christian farmers has also resulted in violence. And weakened government structures leave the population vulnerable.
Nigeria, ranked No. 12 overall, is second behind only Pakistan in terms of violence, and ranks No. 1 in the number of Christians killed for reasons related to their faith. Open Doors tallied 1,350 Nigerian martyrs in its 2020 list.
The Central African Republic (ranked No. 25 overall) ranks fourth in violence against Christians. Burkina Faso (No. 28) ranks fifth. Cameroon (No. 48, its first time on the list) and Mali (No. 29) join Egypt (No. 16), Colombia (No. 41), and Sri Lanka (No. 30) in rounding out the top 10. (Another Sahel country, Niger (No. 50), rejoined the list after five years off.)
Sri Lanka rose 16 spots from No. 46 last year, primarily due to the Easter suicide bombings which killed over 250 people at Catholic and Protestant churches, and hotels.
But the year’s largest and most dramatic jump was in Burkina Faso, which jumped 33 slots after not even qualifying for the top 50 last year (it would have been No. 61).
Dozens of Burkinabe priests and pastors have been kidnapped or killed. Over 200 churches have been forced to close. The United Nations estimates 500,000 people have been displaced from their homes. The African Center for Strategic Studies calculates that extremist attacks have quadrupled since 2017, and deaths from violence increased 60 percent in 2019. Open Doors counted 50 Christians among that number.
Meanwhile, a transition in Nigeria from village raids to kidnapping by militant Muslim Fulani herdsmen—whose attacks were six times as deadly as Boko Haram’s, according to the International Crisis Group—resulted in an overall decrease in Christians killed in the Sahel, as well as worldwide.
Due to this shift in tactics, worldwide martyrdoms fell to 2,983 in the 2020 report, down from 4,305 the year before. (Open Doors is known for favoring a much more conservative estimate than other groups, who often tally martyrdoms at 100,000 a year.)
Abduction of Christians is a new category tracked by Open Doors in this year’s report, with 1,052 tallied worldwide. Nigeria tops the list, with 224.
Nigeria also leads the newly tracked categories of forced marriages (accounting for 130 out of 630 worldwide), attacked Christian homes (1,500 out of 3,315), and looted Christian shops (1,000 out of 1,979).
Other new categories return the focus to Asia.
Of the top 7 nations where Christians are raped or sexually harassed, 4 are recipients of migrant workers in the Arabian Peninsula: Saudi Arabia (No. 13), Qatar (No. 27), Kuwait (No. 43), and the United Arab Emirates (No. 47). Nigeria is eighth. Worldwide there were 8,537 recorded cases, but Open Doors warns this tally is just the tip of the iceberg, as many assaults occur in private and are not reported.
India ranks first in the new category of physical or mental abuse, which includes beatings and death threats. The continuing rise in the subcontinent of a militant Hindu nationalism contributed to 1,445 of the reported 14,645 cases worldwide.
China is the chief violator in Open Doors’s other two previously tracked categories.
Beijing has jailed or detained without charge 1,147 Christians for faith-related reasons, out of a total of 3,711 worldwide. This number rose from 3,150 last year.
But attacks and forced closures of churches have skyrocketed from 1,847 to 9,488, with China accounting for 5,576.
Angola was second with 2,000 and Rwanda was third with 700. (Neither is ranked in the top 50.)
Open Doors cautioned that in several nations, the above violations are very difficult to document precisely. In these cases, round numbers are presented, always leaning towards conservative estimates.
Their research is certified and audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom, a World Evangelical Alliance-backed network based in Bonn, Germany.
In the Middle East, Open Doors noted little change, with 4 of 5 Christians experiencing “high” levels of persecution. The main and continuing trend is the dwindling number of Christians from Syria (No. 11) and Iraq (No. 15).
Syria has lost 75 percent of its Christian population since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, down to 744,000 last year from an estimated 2.2 million. Iraq has lost 87 percent of its Christian population since the Gulf war in 2003, down to 202,000 last year from an estimated 1.5 million.
Open Doors believes it is reasonable to call Christianity the world’s most severely persecuted religion. At the same time, it notes there is no comparable documentation for the world’s Muslim population.
All nations of the world are monitored by its researchers and field staff, but in-depth attention is given to 100 nations and special focus on the 73 which record “high” levels of persecution.
The only good news in the 2020 watch list comes from Ethiopia (No. 39), where recent reforms removed 2.5 million from Open Doors’s global total of Christians facing high levels of persecution. Though sectarian strife has increased as its Nobel-winning Protestant president attempts reforms, the Horn of Africa nation declined in rank from No. 28 to No. 39.
Open Doors also noted the positive case of Pakistan’s Asia Bibi. In May, the mother of five was allowed to emigrate to Canada after the Supreme Court overturned her death penalty conviction of blasphemy. She had been in prison for nine years.
“The suffering of persecuted Christians cannot be recorded in statistics,” stated Open Doors. “Millions of people are found behind the numbers. Each one of them has their own story.
“This often includes deep suffering, but also courage and strong faith.”
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