North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are among the top 10 countries where the persecution of Christians is likely to recur this year, according to a leading Christian charity group’s World Watch List for 2020.
The Asian nations, along with Somalia, Libya, Eretria, Sudan, Yemen and Iran, are the most dangerous places to live as a Christian, Open Doors, an outreach organization that works in more than 60 high-risk countries for Christians, said in its annual report for 2020.
“The persecution of Christians is getting more severe than ever, affecting increasing numbers of believers around the world”
The group, which supplies Bibles, trains church leaders and offers support and emergency relief to Christians, released the report January 15. The document ranks the 50 countries where Christians suffer the most extreme oppression because of their faith, including false imprisonment, captivity and a range of violent attacks and murders.
“The persecution of Christians is getting more severe than ever, affecting increasing numbers of believers around the world,” the report said, emphasizing that as many as 260 million Christians in the top 50 countries on the watch list face high or extreme levels of persecution for their faith this year—up from 245 million in 2019.
The organization estimates that an additional 50 million Christians face high levels of persecution in a further 23 countries not included in the top 50 list. Among those countries, Open Doors reports, are Mexico, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Of the top 50 countries, the organization gave 45 a designation of “extreme” or “very high” in terms of risk of persecution for Christians. In Open Door’s 2019 report, that designation was reserved for 40 countries.
Attacks against churches have shot up by as much as 500 percent, the watchdog said. In 2019, the attacks were 9,488—a significant increase over the 1,847 attacks recorded in the prior year. Besides church closures, the increase is largely because of “the actions of authorities in China,” the report said. China, with a population of around 97 million Christians, is 23rd on the watch list. “Christians are a particular focus because they are the largest social force in China that isn’t controlled by the state,” the report said.
Fewer Christians were killed for their faith in 2019, however. Although as many as 2,983 Christians lost their lives because of their faith, according to the report, the number of believers killed in 2018 was much higher: 4,305. (Fatalities in 2017 stood at 3,066.)
“This is largely due to fewer murders in Nigeria,” said the report, “which remains far and away the country where Christians are most likely to be killed for their faith.”
Nigeria, 12th on the 2020 watch list, has nearly 94 million Christians, just under half the country’s population, according to Open Doors. “Islamic extremists carry out horrific persecution in northern Nigeria,” the charity group reported, adding: “Twelve of the northern states are under Shaira (Islamic law), and persecution has increased since the 2015 election of President Muhammadu Buhari.”
In Pakistan, “anti-blasphemy laws are disproportionately applied against the Christian minority,” the report said, noting that the case of Christian Asia Bibi is “the most famous, attracting international attention.”
Among other trends in the persecution of Christians is the increasing use of digital surveillance by governments. “The explosion in digital technologies has been used to target Christians—particularly in China and India, where facial-recognition technology and artificial intelligence have been used to identify and discriminate against believers,” the report said.
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