Today, just like in the book of Acts, Christians are persecuted all over the world for following Jesus.
Persecution at a Glance
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith.
Trends show that countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians, and perhaps the most vulnerable are Christian women, who often face double persecution for faith and gender.
Every day we receive new reports of Christians who face threats, unjust imprisonment, harassment, beatings and even loss of family because of their faith in Jesus.
- 255 Christians are killed
- 104 are abducted
- 180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage
- 66 churches are attacked
- 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned
Every year, we release the World Watch List—a global indicator of countries where human and religious rights are being violated, and those countries most vulnerable to societal unrest and destabilization. This is the 26thyear of the Open Doors World Watch List, and it remains the only annual in-depth survey to rank the 50 most difficult countries in which to be a Christian.
According to our research:
- 215 million Christians experience high levels of persecution in the countries on the World Watch List. This represents 1 in 12 Christians worldwide.
- North Korea is ranked #1 for the 17th consecutive year as the most dangerous country for Christians.
- During the World Watch List 2018 reporting period: 3,066 Christians were killed; 1,252 were abducted; 1,020 were raped or sexually harassed; and 793 churches were attacked.
- Islamic Oppression fuels Christian persecution in 8 of the top 10 countries.
Major Trends in Christian Persecution
The Spread of Radical Islam
Islamic oppression is one of the most widely recognized sources of persecution for Christians in the world today—and it continues to spread—aiming to bring many parts of the world under Sharia law. The movement, which often results in Islamic militancy and the persecution of Christians, is expanding in Asia (Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia) and Africa (Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia).
The Rise of Religious Nationalism
In a resort to preserve power, insecure governments are using the country’s majority religion to marginalize Christians and other religious minorities. This phenomenon has been observed in some parts of Asia with Hindu nationalism (India, Nepal) and Buddhist nationalism (Myanmar, Sri Lanka) both gaining ground.
Intense Christian Persecution in Central Asia
Christian persecution in Central Asia is on the rise in countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan—and Azerbaijan is new to the list at #45. There is a grassroots revival of Islam in Central Asia, and that means more pressure from the nationalist pro-Islamic governments and within society—causing increased persecution levels on two fronts.
Christian Persecution by Region
Dramatically increasing persecution against Christians in all areas of their lives, Afghanistan models an alarming trend that reverberates through the top ten on the list: no central government, extremist Muslim factions trying to control the country and an intense conservative Islamic population.
Afghanistan and North Korea nearly tied. Never before have the top two countries been so close in incidents. Both countries are extreme in intolerance and outright persecution of Christians in every area Open Doors monitors. Afghanistan now meets the same level of persecution as North Korea in five out of the six areas. This is a tragedy considering the efforts being made by the international community to help rebuild Afghanistan and yet failing to ensure freedom of religion. Reports of violence and human rights atrocities from North Korea are pervasive, while the situation faced by Christians in Afghanistan may be underestimated. It is hard for westerners to imagine a second country could nearly meet the levels of persecution seen in North Korea, but Afghanistan has reached that level this year.
In addition to Pakistan being the most violent toward Christians, the country also scored the highest in churches or church buildings being attacked, abductions and forced marriages.
Led by North Korea, Christians living in many Asian countries continue to face intensifying persecution. Twenty-two of the 50 countries on the list are in Asia. India experienced a dramatic rise in Christian persecution, moving from No. 15 in 2017 to No. 11 this year. Radical Hinduism and Indian nationalism are driving factors in the increasing levels of unrest and instability Christians face. In 2014, India scored only 55 points, while in 2017, Open Doors World Watch List researchers assigned 81 points to the nation—one of the fastest and most intense increases seen. Nepal appears on the list for the first time and lands stunningly at No. 25 due to India’s religious nationalism spilling into the country.
Ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation is becoming common in a number of sub-Saharan African countries like Somalia (No. 3), Sudan (No. 4), Nigeria (No. 14) and Kenya (No. 32). Terrorism connected with extreme Islam continues to plague many African nations, resulting in increased persecution of Christians.
Mexico (39) and Columbia (49) remain the only two nations outside the region of the Middle East, Asia and Africa to make the list. Both experienced increases in persecution, primarily attributed to organized crime, corruption and governmental instability.
According to research calculations, the top ten nations where Christians found it most dangerous and difficult to practice their faith in 2017 were:
- North Korea (94 points)
- Afghanistan (93 points)
- Somalia (91 points)
- Sudan (87 points)
- Pakistan (86 points)
- Eritrea (86 points)
- Libya (86 points)
- Iraq (86 points)
- Yemen (85 points)
- Iran (85 points)
Syria dropped out of the top ten list down to No. 15, while Libya jumped back on the top ten list at No. 7 (since being No. 10 in 2016).
At Open Doors, we’ve made a commitment to stand with the persecuted—so they can be the light of Christ to their communities.
For more than 60 years, Open Doors USA has worked in the world’s most oppressive and restrictive countries for Christians. Open Doors works to equip and encourage Christians living in dangerous circumstances with the threat of persecution and equips the Western church to advocate for the persecuted. Christians are one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries.