About the World Watch List

The Open Doors World Watch List is published every January and lists the 50 countries worldwide where Christians experience the most persecution.

This global survey is based on a comprehensive scoring system that measures 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 WWL process, each country gets a specific final score and is ranked accordingly.

Measuring persecution

Measuring the scale and severity of persecution is a complex task. It is not always clear if and to what extent pressure felt by Christians, or even violence against them, is directly related to them being Christian. Sometimes, just living in a chaotic world creates substantial amounts of suffering for Christians and others alike. Open Doors understands persecution as 'any hostility experienced as a result of one's identification with Christ.' This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians'. This is what the WWL methodology tries to monitor and capture.

2017 represents the 25th year of the Open Doors World Watch List (although Open Doors has been monitoring persecution of Christians worldwide since the 1970s). Over the decades, the World Watch List methodology has been consistently refined to provide ever more credibility, transparency, objectivity and scientific quality. The World Watch List 2017 figures are from the reporting period 1 Nov 2015 - 31 October 2016. Research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF).

'Squeeze' and 'Smash'

Persecution of Christians is more than just physical violence. It is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that involves many aspects such as various forms of cultural marginalisation, government discrimination, hindrances on conversion, interferences on participation in public affairs and restrictions on church life.

World Watch Research distinguishes two main expressions of persecution: 'squeeze' (the suffocating pressure Christians experience in all areas of life) and 'smash' (plain violence).

Smash can be tracked through incidents of violence or aggression, such as rapes, kidnappings, forcible evictions, killings and church burnings. Violence is not the only aspect of persecution, but it is perhaps its sharpest edge and often more readily visible to the outside world. The top ten 'smash' countries in the period covered by the World Watch List 2017 were Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Mexico, Syria, India, Sudan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Afghanistan.

Squeeze needs to be tracked by discerning how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed, in five distinct areas - private life, family life, community life, national life and church life. The countries that show where this squeeze was most intensive were: North Korea, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Maldives, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.

While it would seem that smash is the most prevalent and invasive expression of persecution, it is often the squeeze that is most common and difficult to stop. 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."

Engines of persecution

Why are Christians persecuted, though? What is it that drives persecution? Open Doors has identified eight main 'engines' of persecution that describe why Christians are persecuted in a particular area or setting.

  • Islamic extremism - attempts to bring the country or the world under the 'House of Islam' through violent or non-violent actions
  • Religious nationalism - attempts to conquer the nation for one's religion. Mainly Hinduism and Buddhism, but also Orthodox Judaism or other religions
  • Ethnic antagonism - attempts to force the continuing influence of age-old norms and values shaped in 'tribal' context. Often comes in the form of traditional religion or something similar
  • Denominational protectionism - attempts to maintain one's Christian denomination as the only legitimate or dominant expression of Christianity in the country. In most cases this Christian denomination is the majority Christian denomination
  • Communist and post-Communist oppression - attempts to maintain Communism as a prescriptive ideology and/or controls the church through a system of registration and oversight that has come from Communism
  • Secular intolerance - attempts to eradicate religion from the public and private domain, and imposes an atheistic form of secularism as a new governing ideology
  • Organised corruption and crime - attempts to create a climate of impunity, anarchy and corruption as a means for self-enrichment
  • Dictatorial paranoia - does anything to maintain power; not specifically focused on realising a vision.