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‘Worst Year Yet’: The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian

Islamic extremism now has a rival, according to 2017 World Watch List.
‘Worst Year Yet’: The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian Open Doors

For the third year in a row, the modern persecution of Christians worldwide has hit another record high.

But the primary cause, Islamic extremism, now has a rival: ethnic nationalism.

Thus, Asia increasingly merits concern alongside the Middle East, according to the 2017 World Watch List (WWL) released today by Open Doors.

This being the list’s 25th anniversary, Open Doors also released an analysis of persecution trends over the past quarter-century.

The annual list examines the pressures faced by Christians in five spheres of life (private, family, community, national, and church), plus levels of religiously motivated violence, in order to rank the top 50 countries where "Christians face the most persecution." [Full list below.]

CT’s coverage of recent WWL rankings noted how North Korea was getting competition, as well as how the annual list aims for effective anger and shows persecuted believers that they are not forgotten.

In 25 years of “chronicling and ranking” the political and societal restrictions on religious freedom experienced by Christians worldwide, Open Doors researchers identified 2016 as the “worst year yet.”

“Persecution rose globally again for the third year in a row, indicating how volatile the situation has become,” stated Open Doors. “Countries in South and Southeast Asia rapidly rose to unprecedented levels and now rank among such violent areas as the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The findings and trends noted by Open Doors are stark:

  • Approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high, or extreme persecution.
  • North Korea remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian (for 14 straight years).
  • Islamic extremism remains the global dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries on the 2017 list.
  • Ethnic nationalism is fast becoming a major driver of persecution. “While this took an anti-establishment form in the West, in Asia it took an anti-minorities form, fueled by dramatic religious nationalism and government insecurity. It is common—and easy—for tottering governments to gain quick support by scapegoating Christians.”
  • The total number of persecution incidents in the top 50 most dangerous countries increased, revealing the persecution of Christians worldwide as a rising trend.
  • The most violent: Pakistan, which rose to No. 4 on the list for a level of violence “exceeding even northern Nigeria.”
  • The killings of Christians in Nigeria saw an increase of more than 62 percent.
  • The killings of Christians were more geographically dispersed than in most time periods studied. “Hitting closer to home, 23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith,” said Open Doors of the “rare” event.
  • The worst increase: Mali, which moved up the most places on the list from No. 44 to No. 32.
  • Asia is a new center of concern, with persecution rising sharply in Bangladesh, Laos, and Bhutan, and Sri Lanka joining the list for the first time.​

Open Doors noted that India rose to its highest rank ever, No. 15, amid the continued rise of Hindu nationalism. “An average of 40 incidents were reported per month, including pastors beaten, churches burned and Christians harassed,” stated Open Doors. “Of the 64 million Christians in India, approximately 39 million experience direct persecution.”

In Central Asia, persecution spread due to both Islamic extremism and government attempts to restrict it. “In many countries, governmental raids of suspected Christian households increased, certain Christian books have been banned,” stated Open Doors, “and the membership requirement to remain a legal church doubled, resulting in many churches to be deemed illegal overnight.”

The top 10 nations where it is most dangerous and difficult to practice the Christian faith are:

  1. North Korea

  2. Somalia

  3. Afghanistan

  4. Pakistan

  5. Sudan

  6. Syria

  7. Iraq

  8. Iran

  9. Yemen

  10. Eritrea

Yemen was the only new country in the top 10, replacing Libya.

Over the past 25 years, only three countries have topped the list: North Korea (2002 – 2017), Saudi Arabia (1993 – 1995; 1998 – 2001), and Somalia (1996 – 1997).

The top 10 nations over the 25-year span are:

  1. North Korea

  2. Saudi Arabia

  3. Iran

  4. Somalia

  5. Afghanistan

  6. Maldives

  7. Yemen

  8. Sudan

  9. Vietnam

  10. China

Six countries appear on both lists—a sign of the concerning stability of persecution, noted Open Doors.

The WWL data is compiled from reports spanning November 1, 2015, to October 31, 2016. The annual list is audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom.

Open Doors defines persecution as “any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ.” “Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world,” it stated. “Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith.”

“The Open Doors World Watch List is the most accurate, thorough and intensive research available on the persecution of Christians,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “It calculates not only deaths reported in the news, but also persecution at a grassroots level, where family-to-family persecution is tracked. The 25-year research shows where the most unstable areas for Christians have historically been and, in many countries, remain.”

CT previously reported the WWL rankings for 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012, including a spotlight on where it's hardest to believe. CT also recently compiled 2016’s 12 most-read stories of the persecuted church.

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Posted:January 11, 2017 at 9:00AM
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