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New World Watch List shows growth in Global persecution

13 January 2016

The 2016 Open Doors World Watch List, released today, shows that global persecution of Christian is more extreme than ever before.

Although the attention of the world's press and politicians has been on persecution in Syria and Iraq, those countries are just the tip of the iceberg.

Systematic religious cleansing is widespread across Africa and the Middle East. Every year well over 100 million Christians are persecuted because of their beliefs. Extreme Islamic fundamentalism is rising most sharply in sub-Saharan Africa, where more people are killed for their Christian faith than anywhere else in the world.

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 the figures from the previous year. (And this excludes 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.

Summing up this year's figures, Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland said: "The persecution of Christians is getting worse, in every region in which we work - and it's getting worse fast. "

North Korea still number one

For the fourteenth consecutive year, North Korea is number one on the list: it remains the worst 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.

But other countries have seen increasing persecution and oppression. Iraq (2) has replaced Somalia (7) as the second most dangerous place to be a Christian, while Eritrea - the so-called 'North Korea of Africa' - jumped six places to number three. Afghanistan (4), Syria (5) and Pakistan (6) are the next most difficult places for Christians.

India (17), the second most populous country in the world, has seen persecution levels rise dramatically for the third year running, rising to number 17 from a ranking of 31 in 2013.

Despite the gloomy news, however, there is hope.

"In many parts of the world, despite the pressure and the often terrible cost, the church continues to grow," says Lisa Pearce. "There is always hope, and yet we are in unmarked territory - the pace and scale of persecution of Christians is unprecedented and growing fast."

The 2016 World Watch List

The Open Doors World Watch List is an annual index of the 50 countries in the world where persecution is most severe for Christians. What makes it unique is that the Open Doors research team has access to grass roots data right down to village level, thanks to the long-standing relationships and practical work that Open Doors has been involved in - in small and even underground communities over the last 60 years.

This data is compiled by Open Doors experts using a point system which records the level of persecution. And this demonstrates the rapid rise: in 2013, the lowest ranking country had 35 points, this year's lowest ranking country had 53 points, a rise of 50 per cent.

"This is a cause of great concern," says Lisa Pearce. "Many countries have dropped down the list, not because persecution there is decreasing, but simply because others are getting worse faster."

Open Doors in Parliament

The 2016 World Watch List will be discussed at the House of Commons this afternoon at a cross-party launch. Over 120 MPs have said that they will be attending.

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 has 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."