Today the anti-persecution charity, Open Doors released the 2019 World Watch List, its annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has welcomed the report and reaffirmed his commitment to supporting persecuted Christians around the world.
The World Watch List report will be presented to parliamentarians today at an event in Westminster. Speaking ahead of the launch, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “People of all faiths and none should have the freedom to believe what they choose, but that is clearly not the case across too much of the world. Today’s figures published by Open Doors show that persecution of Christians has risen across the world in the last year, and more than 245 million Christians are experiencing persecution. I look forward to receiving the results of the review being carried out by the Bishop of Truro, to see how the UK can better support persecuted Christians wherever they are. Faith isn’t a crime, believers shouldn’t be treated as criminals, and the UK must fight for that to be the case across the world.”
Research from the World Watch List 2019 shows that Asia is the new hotbed of persecution for Christians. Persecution in Asia has risen sharply over the last five years with one in three Asian Christians now suffering high levels of persecution.
Open Doors UK and Ireland CEO Henrietta Blyth said: “Our research uncovers a shocking increase in the persecution of Christians globally. In China our figures indicate persecution is the worst it's been in more than a decade – alarmingly, some church leaders are saying it’s the worst since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. Worldwide, our data reveals that 13.9 per cent more Christians are experiencing high levels of persecution than last year. That’s 30 million more people.”
India, the world’s largest democracy, has entered the World Watch List top ten for the first time as Hindu extremists act with impunity and violent attacks on Christians and churches rise. This is driven by growing ultra-nationalism, which has brought waves of violence against India’s significant non-Hindu religious minorities. Rising nationalism is leading to similar persecution in other countries such as Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal where national identity is tied to religion. Suddenly, to be Indian or Nepali is to be exclusively Hindu and to be Burmese or Bhutanese one must be Buddhist, so those from minority faiths are considered outcasts. This impacts Christians most significantly in remote rural areas.
Henrietta Blyth comments: “It’s shocking that India – the country which taught the world the way of ‘non-violence’ – now sits alongside the likes of Iran on our World Watch List. For many Christians in India, daily life is now full of fear – totally different from just four or five years ago.”
In South East Asia there was a worrying rise in Islamic extremism: suicide bombers in Indonesia attacked three churches in one day. Pockets of Islamic State affiliate groups in places like Mindanao in the Philippines and Aceh in Indonesia are gaining ground and expanding their territory.
Persecution in North Korea is worse than any other country in the world and has been for the last 18 years. Five years ago only North Korea was in the extreme category for the level of persecution suffered by Christians there. This year the top 11 countries on the World Watch List suffer extreme persecution. These are: North Korea (1), Afghanistan (2), Somalia (3), Libya (4), Pakistan (5), Sudan (6), Eritrea (7), Yemen (8), Iran (9), India (10) and Syria (11).
Open Doors’ persecution experts monitor the situation in 150 countries – this year the situation has become so much worse that countries need 21 per cent more points to make it into the World Watch List top 50 than they did in 2014. Over 4,305 Christians were killed simply because of their beliefs during 2018.
For more information call the Open Doors press office on 01993 777346, 07484 000 441 or 01993 777332, or email ErinJ@opendoorsuk.org.