Anti-persecution charity, Open Doors, launched its World Watch List, of the 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted, in Parliament (16.01.19). Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke at the launch alongside Open Doors CEO, Henrietta Blyth, Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP and two international speakers, Brother Sam from South East Asia and Rebecca from Nigeria. Over 100 Parliamentarians were represented at the launch. Among them was shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry.
Speaking at the event, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said, “I want to thank everyone at Open Doors for the work they’ve been doing in shining a spotlight on this issue. I think it is an extraordinary figure that nearly a quarter of a billion people are suffering persecution today because of their Christian faith. It’s also extraordinary to think that 80 per cent of people who are suffering persecution because of their faith are Christian. And when you look at the countries on that watch list, countries like Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, North Korea you realise that life is very, very tough indeed.”
The Foreign Secretary also said that he had read a book by Open Doors’ founder, Brother Andrew: “One of the oldest books I’ve got - which I’ve had since about the age of 10 - is called God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew and I only realised literally as I was walking over today the connection between Brother Andrew and Open Doors and it’s a great privilege to be here and an extra thrill for me in that context.”
Over 100 Parliamentarians were represented at the launch. Among them was shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry. Speaking to Open Doors at the event she said, “It’s a pleasure to be here at the launch of the World Watch List report 2019. I read it with some concern, to find out that, for the fifth year running persecution of Christians has increased once more. And I think that we can talk in general terms about the persecution of Christians, but sometimes I think if we focus in on one particular case, I think that it can show us a great deal.”
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Open Doors CEO, Henrietta Blyth, discussed trends of the World Watch List, “The main message yet again this year, is that persecution of Christians is growing everywhere. In 2019 over 245 million Christians around the world are experiencing high levels of persecution or worse. That’s up from 215 million in 2018.
“Indeed freedom of religion or belief is increasingly the issue of our time... When freedom of religion or belief is compromised you can be certain that other human rights have been compromised as well.”
Henrietta Blyth concluded her speech by welcoming the government’s review into persecution of Christians: “We are delighted that the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has initiated an independent review to look at UK support for persecuted Christians around the world. We urge the Foreign Office to seize the opportunities presented by the review to ensure that UK aid and influence is being used to maximum effect to protect the rights of Christians and other minority religious groups. Now is the time to reverse the exponential escalation of violence and oppression which today’s research results demonstrate.”
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Brother Sam said, “It saddens me that persecution is increasing in Asia... In some of these countries, even owning a Bible in the native language is a crime. People who decide to follow Jesus Christ are often ostracised or kicked out of their families and communities. If they are reported to the authorities, they can face imprisonment, sent to re-education, psychiatric treatments or even killed. Most of the time these Christians lose all their privileges and inheritance from their family. They lose their jobs and have to leave their spouses and children and are left all alone.”
Speaking about her work with widows and orphans in Northern Nigeria, Rebecca said, “In all this, the group that bears it all are women and children. An unaccounted number of women and girls, when their communities are attacked and subdued by the Islamists, are taken captives as sex slaves.
“This is very common with Christian women. They are forced to deny their faith. Those who stood their ground on their love for Jesus are married off to Boko Haram members, some become sex slaves consistently raped by members of Boko Haram. Many women and girls die in the process while some contract incurable diseases in the camps which eventually lead to their death.”
Henrietta Blyth expressed her appreciation at the number of Parliamentarians in attendance: “What I am deeply struck by this afternoon is the extent of the cross-party support in the room for this issue. Members representing different parties, and different parts of the UK give me hope that the UK really can play a part in making a tangible difference to persecuted Christians across the world in 2019.”
2019 WORLD WATCH LIST
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.
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.