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'Unprecedented levels of persecution'

Across the Middle East and beyond, the situation has deteriorated for Christians, according to the Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List 


World Watch ListEach year anti-persecution charity Open Doors reveals its latest World Watch List, the annual independently audited ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Every country is scored and given persecution points for restrictions on private, family, community, national and church life as well as violent acts.

The 2018 World Watch List revealed a rise in persecution in several parts of the world. North Korea remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. 

Afghanistan is a close second, not because North Korea has got better but because Afghanistan has got worse. Islamic extremism coupled with areas of lawlessness where hard-line groups proliferate has made pressure on the country’s Christians almost unbearable. Christians from a Muslim background are usually killed if they are discovered; this also happens in Somalia, next on the list.

Increase in persecution across the Middle East

A number of notable rises showed the regions where persecution is increasing. They include the Middle East, where hard-line strict Islamic views have become more widely held. 

Violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists is raising levels of fear and intimidation, and the overspill of Islamic terrorists driven out of Iraq and Syria has heralded an increase in the level of threat in Egypt and Turkey. Last year over 200 Christians were driven out of their homes in Egypt and 128 were killed for their faith. Home to about half the Christians in the Middle East, Egypt ranks 17 on the Open Doors World Watch List and has seen a rise of 9 persecution points since 2014.

Turkey was not on the Open Doors World Watch List in 2014, entered in 2015 ranked 41, and in 2018 is ranked 31 with an increase of 10 persecution points.

Added to this, the growing lawlessness in Libya has led to pockets of Islamic extremism gaining more traction and acting as a reservoir for extremist ideology. Jordan has also seen a sharp decline in the situation for Christians, fuelled by a spread of extremist ideology and religious oppression.

Open Doors UK and Ireland CEO Lisa Pearce said, 'Christians in Egypt face a barrage of discrimination and intimidation yet they refuse to give up their faith. It is hard for us here in the UK and Ireland to imagine being defined by our religion every single day in every sphere of life. In Egypt, as in many other Middle Eastern countries, your religion is stated on your identity card. This makes discrimination and persecution easy – you are overlooked for jobs, planning permits are hard to obtain and you are a target when you go to church.

'This deterioration in the quality of life for Middle Eastern Christians is particularly worrying to see in a country such as Jordan, which has always been known to be more tolerant towards those of other faiths than its Middle Eastern neighbours.'

Nepal – new addition 

Elsewhere Nepal became a new addition to the Open Doors World Watch List – ranking at 25. Nepal has seen a sharp 11 persecution point increase in persecution due to the growing influence of Hindu extremists in a surge of religious nationalism mirroring the situation in neighbouring India.

In 2017 Nepal enacted a new law to curb evangelism by criminalising religious conversion. The new law also brought in strict blasphemy rules. Missionaries have told Open Doors that the government announced to all leaders of Christian orphanages and boarding schools in Kathmandu that it would impose huge fines, close them down and confiscate possessions should they find just one Christian booklet in their institution. Praying with children or letting them attend a Bible club is also prohibited.

Last year 23,793 Christians in India were physically or mentally abused – more than the numbers abused in all the other countries of the Open Doors World Watch List put together.

South East Asia – next emerging persecution hotbed

The next emerging trend sees a rise in persecution across South East Asia fuelled by Islamic extremism in Malaysia, up 5 persecution points to a ranking of 23 this year compared with a ranking of 40 in 2014. Indonesia now ranks 38 on the Open Doors World Watch list compared to a ranking of 47 in 2014. In May 2017, the Christian former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaya Purnama – known as Ahok – was imprisoned for blasphemy in a politically-motivated attack and sentenced to two years in jail.
The Philippines is an area many do not associate with Islamic extremism but so called Islamic State has announced a plan to create a caliphate in Southern Philippines.  For five months, Marawi in extremist dominated Mindanao was held siege by so-called Islamic State affiliated group Abu Sayef.  Nine Christians were executed by the Islamic extremists, and many families were supported by partners of Open Doors after they were forced to flee their homes and left without food.

The Maldives, an Islamic nation, remains consistently high on the Open Doors World Watch List at number 13. This country is also faced with growing Islamic extremism: conversion away from Islam is forbidden and punishable by death. Open Doors researchers have heard anecdotal reports of Bibles being confiscated on arrival in the Maldives as well as deportation of Christians. Sadly, persecution problems look set to increase in South East Asia over the coming years.

Central Asia – the crackdown continues

Islamic extremism has led to a crackdown across Central Asia In the dictatorial ‘Stans’. Any non-state group that gains popularity and a following is frowned upon by the authorities. These include house churches run by evangelical Christians who face harsh penalties and brutal intimidation by the security services.

Tajikistan and Kazakhstan have both seen an increase of 7 persecution points in their Open Doors World Watch List score, taking them to rankings of 22 and 28 respectively. Last year, Tajikistan was number 35 Kazakhstan was ranked number 43. Azerbaijan has entered the list this year at number 45.

Persecution continues to rise across Africa

Islamic extremists continue to persecute Christians across Africa, particularly in countries where lawlessness is rife such as Somalia, which ranks 3 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Power vacuums create a situation in which extremist ideologies can proliferate. Dubbed the ‘North Korea of Africa’, Eritrea has risen 4 places in the rankings to number 6 with an increase of 4 persecution points. Christians are considered to be agents of the West and a threat to state and government. Last year in Eritrea 375 Christians were arrested, sentenced or imprisoned and 385 were physically or mentally abused. A 2017 government crackdown on Christians resulted in more arrests, confiscation of Christian materials, damage to churches and imprisonments.

The dictatorial government in neighbouring Sudan also views Christians as agent of the West. Sudan ranks number 4 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Its Islamist and dictatorial government continued to persecute Christians in the Nuba region last year and over 1,000 Christians were driven out of their homes. There was also an intensification of the demolition of churches and arrests of Christians. The under-reported conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims is driving the fighting in places like Yemen (ranked 9 on the Open Doors World Watch List). But where Sunnis and Shias are fighting each other the Christians suffer. They are easy targets, hated by both sides.

Extreme levels of violence towards Christians continued in Nigeria, ranked 12 on the Open Doors World Watch List, where Islamic extremists killed over 2,000 Christians last year. Rapes were numerous – over 500 women were raped or sexually abused last year. Rape is used as a weapon of war by Islamic extremists in Northern Nigeria. 

Watch List

Baptist Times, 05/02/2018
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