13 January 2016

Syria and Iraq are the tip of the iceberg - global persecution of Christians more extreme than ever before says 2016 Open Doors World Watch List.

Religious fundamentalism is sweeping the globe according to figures released today as part of the Open Doors 2016 World Watch List. "Persecution levels have been rapidly rising. This year, a country had to score 50 per cent more points than in 2013 to even make it onto the list," says Open Doors CEO Lisa Pearce. "This is a cause of great concern."

Systematic religious cleansing is widespread across Africa and the Middle East. Every year well over 100 million Christians are persecuted because of their beliefs.

North Korea remains the worst place to be a Christian while Iraq (2) has replaced Somalia (7) as the second most dangerous place to be a Christian. Eritrea, now nicknamed the ‘North Korea of Africa' due to high levels of dictatorial paranoia, follows at number three. Afghanistan (4), Syria (5) and Pakistan (6) are the next most difficult places for Christians.

Persecution has seen the biggest rises in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Eritrea. The number of refugees from Afghanistan and Eritrea has increased significantly. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system, and while the lowest ranking country in 2013 had 35 points, this year's lowest ranking country had 53 points - an increase of more than 50 per cent.

The Open Doors 2016 World Watch List detailing the 50 countries with the worst persecution record will be discussed at the House of Commons this afternoon at a cross-party launch. Over 100 MPs have said that they will be attending.1

Emerging superpower India sees sharp rise in persecution

Emerging superpower India (17), the second most populous country in the world, has seen persecution levels rise dramatically for the third year running, taking it up to number 17 from a ranking of 31 in 2013. Analysis by Open Doors researchers found that the religious freedom of over 200 million2 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.

Religious fundamentalism is spreading

Religious fundamentalism has fuelled a rise in persecution in 80 per cent of the countries on the list. North Korea remains the most dangerous place on earth to be a Christian, with estimates of around 70,000 Christians imprisoned in labour camps. Others who worship in secret risk death if they are discovered.

Religious fundamentalism comes in different forms. In North Korea and Turkmenistan (19) the population are required to revere their leader. Persecution in countries like Colombia (46) is driven by fundamentalist approaches of Animists and people following tribal religions.

Islamic fundamentalism

Islamic fundamentalism is most extreme and is rising most sharply in sub-Saharan Africa. More people are killed for their Christian faith here than anywhere else in the world. As fundamentalism in the form of radical Islam spreads across Africa westwards from Somalia, almost every country from Kenya upwards is affected, with only a few exceptions around the Gulf of Guinea. Eritrea (3), Kenya (16) and Ethiopia (18) have all seen sharp rises in persecution levels.

Kenya rose again in the rankings from 19 in 2015 to 16 in 2016 after seeing its worst terrorism in 15 years at Garissa College, near the Somali border. Some 700 students were held by extremists in April 2015 and 147 Christians were slaughtered after being separated out from their fellow Muslim students.

Boko Haram has dominated the headlines with over 2,500 killings in Nigeria (12) this year. An estimated 2.1 million people are internally displaced in Nigeria alone3, driven out by Boko Haram. Less reported violence against Christian farmers by Hausa Fulani tribesmen has also been extreme with conservative estimates putting it at more than 1,500 killings. Both factions are carrying out religious cleansing, aiming to eradicate Christianity.

The Middle East is a hotbed of Islamic extremism forcing millions to flee their homes after violent killings, hostage-taking and extreme violence against women and children. Syria and Iraq dominate the headlines with Libya moving up sharply. Syria is the largest displacement crisis globally. Aleppo was home to 400,000 Christians at the start of the civil war - now Open Doors estimates that less than 60,000 remain with families leaving every day.

Summing up this year's figures, 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."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: "In the Middle East Christians are suffering terribly and around the world in many other places. Those who speak for them with information and authority are few and far between. Open Doors is clearly one of them."

Prime Minister David Cameron said "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."


Note to Editors - For more information contact Open Doors Press Office on 01993 777377 or 07484 000 441

Press conference invitation attached - please bring invitation with you to get access to House of Commons.The Open Doors World Watch Map (embargoed) is attached as well as a map showing Christian persecution hotspots (embargoed). PDFs are available of Freedom of Religion and the Persecution of Christians: The Open Doors Report 2016 (embargoed). PDFs are also available with information on each country in the 2016 World Watch List.

Open Doors spokespeople available for interview:

Lisa Pearce, CEO Open Doors UK and Ireland, since 2009. Lisa has travelled extensively in countries where Christians are persecuted and for the last seven years has had Christians who have had to flee their countries because of persecution living in her own home

William, an aid worker in Iraq, funded by Open Doors through partner organisations in Iraq who has been working since August 2014 with the Christian refugees who fled DAESH (ISIS) to the safer regions of Kurdistan.

Karen, a trauma counsellor working across the Middle East. Karen is funded by Open Doors through partner organisations in Iraq.

About the Open Doors World Watch List

The Open Doors World Watch List is compiled annually by Open Doors World Watch Unit. It is a list of the 50 countries in the world where persecution is most severe for Christians. The World Watch List 2016 figures are from the reporting period 1 Nov 2014 - 31 October 2015.

The Open Doors World Watch List is unique not only as the instrument that measures the persecution of Christians annually, but its methodology is designed to track how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed in five distinct areas - private life, family life, community life, national life and church life, as well as covering violence such as rapes, killings and church burnings. Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Director of Research at Open Doors International, explains why: "It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all, and so you may find very low levels of violence as a result since incidents of persecution often result from acts of witness."

The countries that show where this squeeze was most intensive were: Somalia, North Korea, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Maldives, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria. The highest levels of violence directed against Christians (in countries listed in WWL 2016) were in Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Egypt, Mexico, Sudan and India.

Open Doors records show that worldwide there were well over 7,000 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the reporting period. That is a rise of almost 3,000 in comparison to conservative figures from the WWL 2015 period. This is excluding North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist. Statistics also show that around 2,300 churches were attacked or damaged, which is over double the number for last year.

Violent incidents - World Watch Research for Open Doors has recorded violent incidents are recorded on the following persecution categories: "Killings", "Physical Aggression", "Threats", "Destruction of churches or other Christian buildings (burnings)", "Attempts to destroy churches or Christian buildings", "Closed or hindered churches or Christian buildings", "House expulsion or destruction (displacements)", "Kidnap for ransom or intimidation (abduction)", "Sexual assault (rape, forced marriages, etc.)", "Arrests", "Forced to leave the country or displaced".

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 60 years. Last year it raised £59 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources, in over 60 countries.

Notable World Watch List ranking changes: (ranking, points)

India - 2016 (17,68) 2015 (21,62) 2014 (28,55) 2013 (31,50)

Central Asia - "The Stans"

Afghanistan 2016 (4,88) 2015 (5,81) 2014 (5,78) 2013 (3,74)

Pakistan 2016 (6,87) 2015 (8,79) 2014 (8,77) 2013 (14,63)

Uzbekistan 2016 (15,70) 2015 (15,69) 2014 (15,68) 2013(16,62)

Turkmenistan 2016 (19,66) 2015 (20,63) 2014 (20,62) 2013(19,58 )

Tajikistan 2016 (31,58) 2015(45,50) 2014 (45,47) 2013(42,44)

Azerbaijan 2016(34,57) 2015 (46,50) 2014 (not on) 2013(38,48)

Kazakhstan 2016 (42,55 ) 2015 (42,51) 2014 (39,49) 2013 (48,38)


Yemen 2016 (11,78) 2015 (14,73) 2014 (10,74) 2013(9,72)

Kenya 2016 (16,68) 2015 (19,63) 2014 (43,48) 2013(40,47)

Eritrea 2016 (3,89) 2015 (9,79) 2014 (12,72) 2013 (10,72)

Explanation of Asterisked Items

1 MPs were invited by Open Doors and also asked to attend by their constituents. 74 MPs attended last year - so far over 100 from all parties have emailed to say they are planning to attend.

2 India (population 1.25 billion) - 200 million people's religious freedom is severely threatened - calculated by Open Doors researchers

3 Killings due to Christian faith in Nigeria reported as 4028 by sources verified by Open Doors World Watch Unit. Local sources estimate at least 50% under reporting. 2.1 million refugees estimate from International Organisation for Migration https://www.iom.int/news/over-21-million-displaced-nigeria-iom