Christian persecution is at an historic high thanks to global rise of religious fundamentalism, most notably by radical Islam, Christian charity Open Doors has found. Persecution has seen the biggest rise in countries such as Pakistan and Eritrea where radical Islam is on the rise, but North Korea still tops the list with its systematic oppression of Christians.
More than 100 million Christians are being persecuted globally, according to the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List, and more than 80 percent of that persecution is down to religious fundamentalism of some kind.
At least 7,000 Christians have been killed for their faith in the last year alone, up from 4,000 in 2014, the report notes. But it admits that the figure is likely to be a significant underestimate as it does not include murders in Iraq, Syria and North Korea, where violent persecution of Christians has become the norm, as accurate records do not exist in those countries.
North Korea, where citizens are required to revere their leader, remains the most dangerous place on earth to be a Christian. It is estimated that around 70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned in labour camps, while others who worship in secret risk death if they are discovered.
An Open Doors partner working with twelve families in North Korea reported: “They have only one Bible in the whole group, and each family must take turns to borrow it. They hide the Bible in a secret place. Once a month, three families get together and worship together; once a year all believers get together in a mountain valley to worship and have secret fellowship.”
However, it is in sub-Saharan Africa where the greatest numbers of Christians are killed for their faith, thanks to the rapid rise of radical Islam. In Nigeria, where Boko Haram is carrying out the systematic slaughter of Christians, more than 4,000 Christians have been killed in the last year, and displaced a further 2.1 million people internally. At least 198 church buildings were also targeted.
The report tracks the persecution of Christians in five different areas: private life, family life, community life, national life and church life, as well as covering violence such as rapes, killings and church burnings.
Director of Research Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan explains: “It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all, and so you may find very low levels of violence as a result since incidents of persecution often result from acts of witness.”
The countries that show where this squeeze was most intensive were Somalia, North Korea, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Maldives, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria; in all of these (excluding North Korea) radical Islam is on the rise.
One church leader from Syria told the authors: “This morning my village was attacked for the third time within a year.
“Either we take up arms and fight, knowing we may die, or we flee, knowing we may never return.”
Another Syrian church leader told an international Christian conference “Don’t make it easy for us to leave, because we want to show we are part of the silent majority in the Middle East who wants peace.”
The highest levels of violence directed against Christians were in Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Egypt, Mexico, Sudan and India, illustrating the global nature of violent Christian persecution.
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.”
The scale of that rapid rise can be seen in the points system used to compile the report. 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 Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken of the need to protect vulnerable Christians, saying: “Standing up for religious freedom is a priority for my Government. We are committed to promoting and protecting the right to freedom of religion or belief as one of the foundations of human rights. No matter what faith we follow, charity, compassion, responsibility and forgiveness are values which speak to us all.”
However, Pearce has called on the British government to do much more in taking a pro-active stance in tackling Christian persecution. “We should not expect [a] change unless we are part of changing the situation,” she said.
“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.”