The two Asian nations moved up on Open Doors’s annual ranking of the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian. India entered the World Watch List’s top 10 for the first time, due to a growing Hindu nationalist threat stirring anti-Christian sentiments. Meanwhile China, where the Communist government continues closing major congregations and detaining Christian leaders, climbed from No. 43rd to No. 27 on the list.
“In the north and Middle Belt of Nigeria … at least 3,700 Christians were killed for their faith—almost double the number of a year ago (an estimated 2,000)—with villages completely abandoned by Christians forced to flee, as their armed attackers then move in to settle, with impunity,” wrote World Watch Monitor in its analysis of the list. The news service noted that “of the 4,136 deaths for Christian faith that the List reports, Nigeria alone accounts for about 90% (3,731).”
The latest World Watch List indicates that religious freedom restrictions have also become more widespread, affecting 1 in 9 Christians worldwide. An estimated 245 million Christians in the 50 countries on this year’s rankings experience high levels of persecution compared to 215 million last year.
Of the 150 countries monitored by Open Doors, 73 now exhibit high to extreme levels of persecution; last year, only 58 countries showed the same. “[In 2019], 11 countries score highly enough to fit into the ‘extreme’ category for the level of persecution of Christians,” noted World Watch Monitor. “It was the same last year, but five years ago, only North Korea was in that category.”
The rise corresponds with the Pew Research Center’s 2018 report on the global rise in religious antagonism overall, which found that 83 percent of the population lives in places with “high” or “very high” religious restrictions, since some of the most restrictive countries—again, China and India—are also the world’s largest. The worsening restrictions represent the biggest surge in religious hostility in over a decade, according to Pew.
The World Watch List’s No. 1 spot has gone to the same place for 18 years running: North Korea, where Christianity is banned. Besides North Korea and India at No. 10, all others at the top of the rankings are majority-Muslim countries with a Christian minority: Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemeni, and Iran.
Even though China doesn’t yet rank among the worst offenders on Open Doors’s list, the swift actions by the government to reshape and “Sinicize” Christianity represent a mounting threat to the world’s biggest persecuted church.
“The distressing impact of billions of people living in an environment in which the government oppresses freedom of religion is unraveling day by day as millions of Christians are being attacked, imprisoned, or killed.”