UK government urged to act on global persecution of Christians

The UK is a generous donor to a number of countries highlighted on a new list of places that are dangerous for Christians


The persecution of Christians across the world continues to increase, according to new data published today.

Commenting on the publication of the 2016 World Watch List, Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors has observed that ‘persecution levels have been rapidly rising’.  It finds that every year ‘well over’ 100 million Christians are persecuted because of their beliefs.

The annual list highlights the top 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

It is based on a comprehensive scoring system that looks to measure the degree of freedom Christians have to live out their faith in five spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church life – plus a sixth sphere measuring levels of violence. The methodology provides ‘persecution points’ for each sphere. As a result of the process, each country gets a specific final score and is ranked accordingly.

In a sign of the increased difficulties being faced by Christians worldwide, countries needed to score 50 per cent more points than they did in 2013 just to make it on to the grim list.

For the 14th year in a row North Korea remains the most dangerous country to be a Christian. It is estimated that around 70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned in labour camps there, whilst others who worship in secret risk death if they are discovered. Just last month it was reported that  North Korea had sentenced a Canadian pastor to life in prison ‘for subversive plots and activities.’

Iraq replaces Somalia (now 7th) as the second most dangerous country in which to be a Christian, with Eritrea, now nicknamed the ‘North Korea of Africa’ due to high levels of dictatorial paranoia, following at number three. Afghanistan is 4th, Syria 5th and Pakistan 6th.

The most notable increase in persecution against Christians has been seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Eritrea.

Of note, the world’s largest democracy, India, whose prime minister the UK welcomed on a visit last November, has risen from 31st in 2013 to 17th this year. Open Doors has noted that:

“Researchers found that the religious freedom of over 200 million people is severely threatened by a new wave of Hindu nationalist electoral successes that have seen the introduction of drastic anti-conversion laws.

“Pastors have been beaten and killed, and members of their congregations forced to convert to Hinduism in an increasing number of attacks across the country. On average a church is burned down or a pastor beaten three times a week.”

The report notes that some of the most extreme cases of persecution are a result of Islamic fundamentalism which, Open Doors notes, ‘is rising most sharply in sub-Saharan Africa. More people are killed for their Christian faith here than anywhere else in the world’.  In Nigeria, 12th on the list, Boko Haram has killed 2,500 Christians over the past year.

In the Syrian city of Aleppo, Open Doors estimates that less than 60,000 Christians remain with their families, down from the 400,000 who lived there at the start of the war.

Commenting on the new World Watch List, 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 – we should not expect that to change unless we are part of changing the situation.

“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.”

Responding to the report, David Cameron commented:

“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.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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