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On January 19, 2022, Open Doors, an international NGO advocating on behalf of persecuted Christians, released their annual World Watch List. The World Watch List assesses 50 countries where Christians face the most severe types of persecution. The newly published data reveals significant changes in the situation of Christian minorities around the world. 

According to the research, the persecution of Christians has reached the highest levels since the World Watch List began nearly 30 years ago. “Across 76 countries, more than 360 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith – an increase of 20 million since last year.” 312 million Christians live in the top 50 countries alone. One in every seven Christians live under at least high levels of persecution or discrimination for their faith. 

For the first time in years, the top of the list was taken by Afghanistan, rather than the usual culprit, North Korea. As the report suggests, since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, Christian minorities in Afghanistan have had to flee or go into hiding. “Those whose names are known to the Taliban are being hunted down. If men are discovered to have a Christian faith they are executed. If women are discovered, they may escape execution but face a life of slavery or imprisonment.” Because of the dire situation in Afghanistan and the risk that soon there will be no Christians left in Afghanistan. The “triumph” of the Taliban in Afghanistan has also boosted other jihadist groups and extremism in Africa and Asia. 

North Korea moved to number two in the list. Despite moving down the rankings, North Korea has reached its highest level for persecution. This is cause in part by the “anti-reactionary thought law.” There is no freedom of religion or belief in North Korea and Christianity has been persecuted for decades. “If Christians are discovered, they and their families are deported to labor camps as political criminals or killed on the spot. Gathering with other Christians is therefore almost impossible and must only be attempted in utmost secrecy.”

Somalia took the third place, with Christian minorities being explicitly targeted by the terrorist jihadist group, al-Shabaab. “Even being suspected of being a convert to Christianity means life-threatening danger. Anyone found in possession of a Bible or other printed Christian material is executed with the blessing of their relatives and community.”

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In Libya, ranked as fourth on the World Watch List, Christian minorities are targeted by radical Islamist groups and organized criminal groups. They are often subject to kidnap, rape, enslavement and killed, all perpetrated with impunity. 

Converts to Christianity in Yemen are at a high risk of honor killing or physical violence. 

In Eritrea, ranked as sixth, the Government recognizes only the Eritrean Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches and Sunni Islam. Others face the risk of discrimination and acts of violence. 

In Nigeria, Christians face threats from violent extremist groups, whether religious or ethno-religious, but also state-actors and associated crimes. The majority of attacks against Christian minorities occur in Northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt, with the perpetrators including Boko Haram, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), Fulani militants and armed bandits. Abductions, forcible conversions, forcible marriages, rape and sexual violence continue to be a common weapon of choice. The researchers recorded 4,650 killings in the reporting period. The situation in other West African countries deteriorated as well, including in Mali and Niger. 

In Pakistan, Christian minorities are said to constitute roughly a quarter of all blasphemy accusations, this despite being less than 2% of the population. “Girls and young women continue to be abducted, forcefully married and converted. All Christians suffer from institutionalized discrimination; occupations seen as low and dirty are reserved for Christians by the authorities.” 620 Christians were killed in the country that year. 

In Iran, converts to Christianity are often targets of violent attacks. “Leaders and members of Christian house churches have been arrested, prosecuted and given long prison sentences for ‘crimes against national security’.” 

In India, the report noted a dramatic increase of attacks on Christians since Modi became Prime Minister.

The World Watch List 2022 paints a concerning picture of the situation Christians face around the world. However, it does not stop with Christians. In countries where Christians, and especially Christian minorities are persecuted, other religious minorities are subjected to similar treatment. Furthermore, the report makes a very important point – that the impunity for such targeting of religious minorities begets further crime as it emboldens the perpetrators. It emboldens the perpetrators not only in the locality or country, but also across whole regions. This is a warning that we must take seriously.

Source: Forbes – Business

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