Christians in Egypt and Turkey face unprecedented levels of persecution and suppression according to the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List. Last year over 200 Christians were driven out of their homes in Egypt and 128 were killed for their faith.
Across the Middle East the situation has deteriorated for Christians as hard-line strict Islamic views have become more widely held. Violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists is raising levels of fear and intimidation, and the overspill of Islamic terrorists driven out of Iraq and Syria has heralded an increase in the level of threat in Egypt.
Deadly and painful year
Michael* an Egyptian Christian businessman told Open Doors: “This last year, 2017, has been one of the deadliest and most painful years for the Christen community. I have suffered much discrimination, so has my family. My father worked in the public sector. After 30 years hard work his company brought in a young man to be his boss because my father was a Christian. My wife was also discriminated against at work when it was made clear to her that she couldn’t be promoted to manager because she is a Christian. Last week a taxi driver was looking for our house to pick me up – he asked someone for directions and they replied ‘do you mean The Christian?’ – this is a very derogatory way to talk about someone but it happens to us all, very often.”
Shopkeepers in Egypt often hear that villagers are boycotting their shop because someone has told the other villagers that what they are selling is ‘haram’ (forbidden).
Home to about half the Christians in the Middle East, Egypt ranks 17 on the Open Doors World Watch List and has seen a rise of 9 persecution points since 2014.
In 2017 there were several horrific violent incidents across Egypt: at Easter, 49 people were killed in two church bombings; in May, Islamic extremists attacked people travelling to a monastery in Upper Egypt – killing 29. In Minya governorate alone, over 15 girls have been kidnapped in the last year with the aim of forcing them to marry a Muslim husband and convert to Islam.
“Christians in Egypt have mixed feelings,” said Michael. “They have witnessed the sad scenes of the attacks and the collective funerals. It’s very hard when you see so many coffins – its very heart breaking and it also makes people afraid. You wonder will this happen in my church one day? Will I be next? Some people has asked their children to stay at home on special occasions because of fear of attacks. However on those special occasions the churches are full. We celebrated Christmas on the 7 January – most of the churches were really full with Christians joyfully celebrating Christmas in spite of the recent attacks. They have a strong desire to go to Church and worship. It’s made us stronger as a community.”
Open Doors UK and Ireland CEO Lisa Pearce said: “Christians in Egypt face a barrage of discrimination and intimidation yet they refuse to give up their faith. It is hard for us here in the UK and Ireland to imagine being defined by our religion every single day in every sphere of life. In Egypt, as in many other Middle Eastern countries, your religion is stated on your identity card. This makes discrimination and persecution easy – you are overlooked for jobs, planning permits are hard to obtain and you are a target when you go to church. This deterioration in the quality of life for Middle Eastern Christians is particularly worrying to see in a country such as Jordan, which has always been known to be more tolerant towards those of other faiths than its Middle Eastern neighbours.”
Extreme persecution by Hindu religious nationalists in India
Last year 23,793 Christians in India were physically or mentally abused – more than the numbers abused in all the other countries of the Open Doors World Watch List put together.
Extreme religious nationalism in India has made life for Christians a daily struggle in many areas; the situation deteriorated by 8 persecution points this year and India is now ranked at 11 on the Open Doors World Watch List compared with a ranking of 28 in 2014. Both governments turn a blind eye to those persecuting Christians, while at the same time keeping cases where people are falsely accused of attempting to convert people to Christianity tied up in court for many months. According to information gathered by local churches, 635 Christians were arrested and imprisoned in India last year, many without trial or whose trials faced lengthy delays.
Open Doors UK and Ireland CEO Lisa Pearce said: “I have met Indian Christians who had been forced to leave their homes, who were unable to get jobs and who were afraid they would be the next victim of a vicious attack. Over 63 million Christians in India are experiencing persecution or oppression simply because of what they believe – and it’s clear that the international community need to do more to speak up for Christians and other minorities in both India and Nepal.”
Nepal enters World Watch List
Nepal is a new addition to the Open Doors World Watch List – ranking at 25. Nepal has seen a sharp 11 persecution point increase in persecution due to the growing influence of Hindu extremists in a surge of religious nationalism mirroring the situation in neighbouring India.
In 2017 Nepal enacted a new law to curb evangelism by criminalising religious conversion. The new law also brought in strict blasphemy rules. Missionaries have told Open Doors that the government announced to all leaders of Christian orphanages and boarding schools in Kathmandu that it would impose huge fines, close them down and confiscate possessions should they find just one Christian booklet in their institution. Praying with children or letting them attend a Bible club is also prohibited.
North Korea still most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian, but only just
North Korea remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Believers are forced to worship in secret – if they are discovered they are taken to labour camps. An estimated 70,000 Christians are believed to be in these camps. Last year, North Korea saw a further increase in the threat to Christians – the North Korean regime has been monitoring the border with China closely and raiding safe houses where Christian converts have sought refuge. Christians who are discovered are sent back to North Korean camps where they face appalling conditions and are subject to torture, and many die.
Afghanistan is a close second on the Open Doors World Watch List, not because North Korea has got better but because Afghanistan has got worse. Islamic extremism coupled with areas of lawlessness where hard-line groups proliferate has made pressure on the country’s Christians almost unbearable. Christians from a Muslim background are usually killed if they are discovered; this also happens in Somalia, next on the Open Doors World Watch List.
South East Asia –emerging persecution hotbed
The next emerging trend sees a rise in persecution across South East Asia fuelled by Islamic extremism in Malaysia, up 5 persecution points to a ranking of 23 this year compared with a ranking of 40 in 2014. Indonesia now ranks 38 on the Open Doors World Watch list compared to a ranking of 47 in 2014. In May 2017, the Christian former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaya Purnama – known as Ahok – was imprisoned for blasphemy in a politically-motivated attack and sentenced to two years in jail.
The Philippines is an area many do not associate with Islamic extremism but so called Islamic State has announced a plan to create a caliphate in Southern Philippines. For five months, Marawi in extremist dominated Mindanao was held siege by so-called Islamic State affiliated group Abu Sayef. Nine Christians were executed by the Islamic extremists, and many families were supported by partners of Open Doors after they were forced to flee their homes and left without food.
The Maldives, an Islamic nation, remains consistently high on the Open Doors World Watch List at number 13. This country is also faced with growing Islamic extremism: conversion away from Islam is forbidden and punishable by death. Open Doors researchers have heard anecdotal reports of Bibles being confiscated on arrival in the Maldives as well as deportation of Christians. Sadly, persecution problems look set to increase in South East Asia over the coming years.
Crackdown in Central Asia
Islamic extremism has led to a crackdown across Central Asia In the dictatorial ‘Stans’. Any non-state group that gains popularity and a following is frowned upon by the authorities. These include house churches run by evangelical Christians who face harsh penalties and brutal intimidation by the security services. Tajikistan and Kazakhstan have both seen an increase of 7 persecution points in their Open Doors World Watch List score, taking them to rankings of 22 and 28 respectively. Last year, Tajikistan was number 35 Kazakhstan was ranked number 43. Azerbaijan has entered the list this year at number 45.
Persecution continues to rise across Africa
Islamic extremists continue to persecute Christians across Africa, particularly in countries where lawlessness is rife such as Somalia, which ranks 3 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Power vacuums create a situation in which extremist ideologies can proliferate. Dubbed the ‘North Korea of Africa’, Eritrea has risen 4 places in the rankings to number 6 with an increase of 4 persecution points. Christians are considered to be agents of the West and a threat to state and government. Last year in Eritrea 375 Christians were arrested, sentenced or imprisoned and 385 were physically or mentally abused. A 2017 government crackdown on Christians resulted in more arrests, confiscation of Christian materials, damage to churches and imprisonments.
The dictatorial government in neighbouring Sudan also views Christians as agent of the West. Sudan ranks number 4 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Its Islamist and dictatorial government continued to persecute Christians in the Nuba region last year and over 1,000 Christians were driven out of their homes. There was also an intensification of the demolition of churches and arrests of Christians. The under-reported conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims is driving the fighting in places like Yemen (ranked 9 on the Open Doors World Watch List). But where Sunnis and Shias are fighting each other the Christians suffer. They are easy targets, hated by both sides.
Extreme levels of violence towards Christians continued in Nigeria, ranked 14 on the Open Doors World Watch List, where Islamic extremists killed over 2,000 Christians last year. Rapes were numerous – over 500 women were raped or sexually abused last year. Rape is used as a weapon of war by Islamic extremists in Northern Nigeria.
WHAT IS THE WORLD WATCH LIST FOR?
- To help churches and individuals to understand where their church family is in most need of their prayers and support. You can find information and prayer points for each country on our country profiles. Look out for other World Watch List resources for individuals and churches coming soon.
- To help the media to understand the trends and underlying causes behind their headlines.
- To help our leaders to understand that Christians around the world are facing persecution, and that they can act to end persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. Invite your MP to the parliamentary launch of the 2018 World Watch List on 17 January.