North Korea tops the list of perpetrators of religious oppression in Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List.
Religious oppression can come in various forms, according to a new report from Open Doors, an organization that monitors persecution of Christians around the world.
The 2021 edition of the World Watch List, which Open Doors has been publishing annually for a number of years, describes the situation for Christians in 50 countries. The list begins with North Korea, where Open Doors finds oppression of Christians to be the most severe.
But religious oppression does not always have the same cause. In some places, it is because of “clan oppression,” which Open Doors defines as internal persecution among a common people group. An example of this would be in Afghanistan, where Open Doors says that living openly as a Christian is impossible.
“Christian converts face dire consequences if their new faith is discovered,” says the report. “Essentially, converts have two options: flee the country or risk being killed. If their family discovers their conversion, the family, clan or tribe must save its ‘honor’ by disowning the believer, or even killing them. Christians from a Muslim background can also be sent to a psychiatric hospital, because leaving Islam is considered a sign of insanity.”
Other sources of persecution include Islamic oppression (Libya, Pakistan and Iran, among others) and communist and post-communist oppression (North Korea, China).
In Eritrea and Ethiopia, the source of oppression is “denominational protectionism.” That means that the dominant Christian group oppresses a minority Christian community.
“Christians from non-traditional denominations face the harshest persecution in Eritrea, both from the government and from the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC—the only Christian denomination recognized by the government),” says the report. “Government forces monitor phone calls and conduct countless raids that target Christians and can lead to arrest and imprisonment without trial. Many Christians are held in the country’s intricate tunnel system of inhumane prisons. Their loved ones may not know where they are or even if they’re still alive.”
In India, religious nationalism is the cause cited for oppression. Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus, and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam, says the report:
To achieve this goal, they use extensive violence, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. In their villages, Christians are accused of following a “foreign faith” and often physically attacked. If they don’t “re-convert,” their community may boycott them, with a devastating effect on their ability to earn income and buy food.
Egypt’s Christians, says Open Doors, suffer because of “dictatorial paranoia,” which drives a political leader and the inner clique to dominate every aspect of society. “The dictator is seized by fear that someone, somewhere, is plotting an overthrow,” Open Doors explains. ” No one is allowed to organize outside state control.”
“Persecution against Christians in Egypt happens mostly at the community level and most frequently in Upper Egypt,” Open Doors explains. “Incidents may vary from Christian women being harassed on the street, to Christian communities being driven out of their homes by extremist mobs. Although Egypt’s government speaks positively about the country’s Christian community, the lack of serious law enforcement and the unwillingness of local authorities to protect Christians leave believers vulnerable to attack.”
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II recently characterized the situation somewhat differently.
“When I meet the leaders of the world, they always ask me questions about the persecution that is affecting us in Egypt, and I answer that there is no persecution, clearly rejecting this expression to qualify our condition in our country,” said Pope Tawadros, according to a report in Fides. Although Copts face difficulties and problems linked to sectarian violence and discrimination, those problems do not constitute systematic religious persecution.
In general, Open Doors found that the coronavirus and the measures taken to contain it have worsened the situation of Christian minorities in many parts of the world. Restrictions have allowed Islamic militants to act more freely to increase violence against Christians in sub-Saharan Africa and authoritarian states like China to expand their surveillance and control over Christians.