SANTA ANA, Calif. — A watchdog organization that releases a report each year on the global persecution of Christians says that acts of hostility against believers rose for the third year in a row in 2016, with persecution in South and Southeast Asia particularly rising to “unprecedented levels.”
“For Christians in the West, the Open Doors World Watch List is a clear indicator that we need to advocate on behalf of those who do not have the same religious freedom privileges we do,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA in a statement.
The organization released its annual “World Watch List” on Wednesday, which marks the 50 most dangerous places to live as a Christian. It noted that out of the 50 countries on the list, an estimated 215 million Christians currently face significant or extreme persecution.
North Korea ranked the worst place to live as a Christian for the 15th year in a row, but the countries that followed were not far behind.
“In this totalitarian communist state, Christians are forced to hide their faith completely from government authorities, neighbors and often, even their own spouses and children,” the report outlines. “Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion and starvation.”
The World Watch List found that Islamic terror was also a major force behind the global persecution, including in a number of African nations, where groups like Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram make life difficult for followers of Christ.
“Since the downfall of Ziad Barre in 1991, Somalia has become a safe-haven for Islamic militants,” it explains. “Christian converts from Islam in the country have been facing a great deal of persecution, and martyrdom is very common. The mere suspicion of one’s having renounced Islam leads to a rushed public execution.”
Following Somalia’s number two placement on the list is Afghanistan, where Christians are in the minority. In fact, Christians are a “small and vulnerable minority” in most of the countries on the list. In 41 of the 50 nations, Christians constitute less than 15 percent of the population, and in 27 countries, less than 5 percent.
“Many in Afghanistan who convert from Islam to Christianity are murdered once their extended families learn of their new faith,” the report outlines. “In other families, Christian converts are delivered to mental hospitals under the premise that no one in their right mind would ever choose to leave Islam.”
Syria and Iraq, which continue to be ISIS strongholds, ranked sixth and seventh.
But what especially concerned Open Doors USA was the spike in persecution in India, where an average of 40 incidents of violence or hostility against Christians were reported each month. The organization believes that the election of Hindu nationalist party leader Narendra Modi in 2014 was partly responsible for the increase.
“A stand-out trend is that religious nationalism is driving the Asian countries up the list,” explained Dr. Ron Boyd-MacMillan, Director for Strategic Research. “It’s a long-term trend, it’s been gathering pace since the 1990s when nobody bothered to notice it.”
“But this year, I think it’s really come into its own,” he said. “It is most visible in India; India is at its highest position on the World Watch List ever. The Hindu extremists are really in power, and a mob can do what they like in India, and it’s a large Church so there are a lot of incidents.”
It is believed that 39 million of the estimated 64 million identifying Christians in India have faced persecution.
The other countries listed in the top ten are Pakistan, Sudan, Iran and Yemen.
The full World Watch List may be read here.