International (Open Doors) – In January 2015, Open Doors USA predicted that while Christians faced the worst persecution in modern history in 2014, the worst was yet to come. Today’s release of the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List confirmed that the prediction was sadly fulfilled in 2015 — the persecution of Christians increased on every continent.
This morning at the National Press Club, Open Doors released its annual World Watch List, a ranking of the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous and difficult to be a Christian. Islamic extremism continued to be the primary driving force behind the expansion of persecution, with its rise being the lead generator of persecution for 35 out of the 50 nations on the list. Its two hubs are in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, regions where persecution has risen to a level akin to ethnic cleansing.
“The levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence against Christians is unprecedented, spreading and intensifying,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “Christians, longing to stay in their home countries, are being forced to flee for their lives and for their children’s lives. The 2016 Open Doors World Watch List demonstrates that persecution isn’t just a Christian problem; it’s a global problem.”
More than 7,000 Christians were killed worldwide for faith-related reasons in the reporting period, an increase of nearly 3,000 compared to the 2015 Open Doors World Watch List. (This excludes North Korea, and some of Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist.) More than 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged, which is more than double the number from last year’s list.
In 2015, conflict and persecution continued to drive mass displacement in the Middle East, leaving 12.5 million refugees throughout the region. More than 1 million migrants traveled from the Horn of Africa and the Middle East to Europe in hopes of safer and better lives. In what was the largest Christian city in Syria — Aleppo — the Christian population has been reduced from 400,000 to a mere 60,000. Many Syrian refugees have given up hope of ever being able to return to their war-torn homeland.
The most oppressive regime in contemporary times, North Korea topped this year’s Open Doors World Watch List for the 14th consecutive year. Eritrea and Pakistan rose to their highest levels (the biggest two countries to jump up the list), No. 3 and No. 6 respectively, while Libya entered the top 10 for the first time. Open Doors’ researchers rank persecution on a number of factors resulting in a 100-point scale. This year, researches recorded an average persecution increase in the top 50 nations of 2.6 points compared to last year.
Researchers calculated the top 10 nations where Christians found it most dangerous and difficult to practice their faith in 2015 were:
- North Korea (92 points)
- Iraq (90 points)
- Eritrea (89 points)
- Afghanistan (88 points)
- Syria (87 points)
- Pakistan (87 points)
- Somalia (87 points)
- Sudan (84 points)
- Iran (83 points)
- Libya (79 points)
Nigeria and Pakistan each scored the highest levels of violence this year. The other top 10 countries with the most violent levels directed against Christians included: Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Egypt, Mexico, Sudan and India.
Christians living in Central Asian states saw a sharp deterioration in their religious freedom during 2015, with Tajikistan (at No. 31 moving up from No. 45) and Azerbaijan (at No. 34 from No. 46) constituting some of this year’s significant risers on the Open Doors World Watch List.
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution can take many forms, Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, torture, rape and even death as result of their faith.
Persecution at a Glance
Christian persecution is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. Examples include imprisonment, torture, beheadings, rape, and loss of home and assets.
While media most often report violent persecution, nonviolent persecution also continues to rise. Many Christians throughout the world face persecution in their personal lives through family, community and public spheres of life. Christians are often ostracized by family exclusion, the loss of a job or even rejection from a community.
“For Christians in the West, the Open Doors World Watch List serves as a clarion call to pray, advocate and remember their persecuted fellow Christians,” said Curry.