Global persecution of Christians growing 'more extreme'
More than 100 million Christians across the world are being persecuted because of their beliefs, reports Open Doors ...
Religious fundamentalism is sweeping the globe according to figures released today as part of the Open Doors 2016 World Watch List.
"Persecution levels have been rapidly rising. This year, a country had to score 50 per cent more points than in 2013 to even make it onto the list," says Open Doors CEO Lisa Pearce. "This is a cause of great concern."
Systematic religious cleansing is widespread across Africa and the Middle East. Every year well over 100 million Christians are persecuted because of their beliefs.
North Korea remains the worst place to be a Christian while Iraq (2) has replaced Somalia (7) as the second most dangerous place to be a Christian. Eritrea, now nicknamed the ‘North Korea of Africa' due to high levels of dictatorial paranoia, follows at number three. Afghanistan (4), Syria (5) and Pakistan (6) are the next most difficult places for Christians.
Persecution has seen the biggest rises in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Eritrea. The number of refugees from Afghanistan and Eritrea has increased significantly. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system, and while the lowest ranking country in 2013 had 35 points, this year's lowest ranking country had 53 points – an increase of more than 50 per cent.
The Open Doors 2016 World Watch List detailing the 50 countries with the worst persecution record will be discussed at the House of Commons this afternoon at a cross-party launch. More than 100 MPs have said that they will be attending.
Emerging superpower India sees sharp rise in persecution
Emerging superpower India (17), the second most populous country in the world, has seen persecution levels rise dramatically for the third year running, taking it up to number 17 from a ranking of 31 in 2013.
Analysis by Open Doors researchers found that the religious freedom of over 200 million people is severely threatened by a new wave of Hindu nationalist electoral successes that have seen the introduction of drastic anti-conversion laws.
Pastors have been beaten and killed, and members of their congregations forced to convert to Hinduism in an increasing number of attacks across the country. On average a church is burned down or a pastor beaten three times a week.
Religious fundamentalism is spreading
Religious fundamentalism has fuelled a rise in persecution in 80 per cent of the countries on the list. North Korea remains the most dangerous place on earth to be a Christian, with estimates of around 70,000 Christians imprisoned in labour camps. Others who worship in secret risk death if they are discovered.
Religious fundamentalism comes in different forms. In North Korea and Turkmenistan (19) the population are required to revere their leader. Persecution in countries like Colombia (46) is driven by fundamentalist approaches of Animists and people following tribal religions.
Islamic fundamentalism is most extreme and is rising most sharply in sub-Saharan Africa. More people are killed for their Christian faith here than anywhere else in the world. As fundamentalism in the form of radical Islam spreads across Africa westwards from Somalia, almost every country from Kenya upwards is affected, with only a few exceptions around the Gulf of Guinea. Eritrea (3), Kenya (16) and Ethiopia (18) have all seen sharp rises in persecution levels.
Kenya rose again in the rankings from 19 in 2015 to 16 in 2016 after seeing its worst terrorism in 15 years at Garissa College, near the Somali border. Some 700 students were held by extremists in April 2015 and 147 Christians were slaughtered after being separated out from their fellow Muslim students.
Boko Haram has dominated the headlines with over 2,500 killings in Nigeria (12) this year. An estimated 2.1 million people are internally displaced in Nigeria alone3, driven out by Boko Haram. Less reported violence against Christian farmers by Hausa Fulani tribesmen has also been extreme with conservative estimates putting it at more than 1,500 killings. Both factions are carrying out religious cleansing, aiming to eradicate Christianity.
The Middle East is a hotbed of Islamic extremism forcing millions to flee their homes after violent killings, hostage-taking and extreme violence against women and children. Syria and Iraq dominate the headlines with Libya moving up sharply. Syria is the largest displacement crisis globally. Aleppo was home to 400,000 Christians at the start of the civil war – now Open Doors estimates that less than 60,000 remain with families leaving every day.
Summing up this year's figures, Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors said: "The persecution of Christians is getting worse, in every region in which we work – and it's getting worse fast. The trend is stark, as are the consequences for real people – we should not expect that to change unless we are part of changing the situation. As a key voice within the international community and a generous provider of aid to a number of the countries on the 2016 World Watch List, I urge our government to do everything possible within their spheres of influence to affect what happens next. We will not get these days back."
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "In the Middle East Christians are suffering terribly and around the world in many other places. Those who speak for them with information and authority are few and far between. Open Doors is clearly one of them."