Open Doors’ annual World Watch List examines the 50 countries worldwide where it’s most difficult to be a Christian. It is the only annual in-depth survey of its kind, and reveals several trends in how Christians are being targeted around the world:
- The devastating persecution no one saw coming
The coronavirus pandemic was the event of a generation. And in addition to the pain felt by people all over the world, it also exposed the ugliness of Christian persecution in a new way. In India (No. 10 on the World Watch List), more than 100,000 Christians received relief aid from Open Doors partners to help them through the pandemic. Of these believers, 80 percent reported to World Watch List researchers that they were dismissed from food distribution points. Some walked miles and hid their Christian identity to get food elsewhere. Another 15 percent received food aid, but reported other discrimination, such as being passed over for employment.
And it wasn’t just India: The global pandemic made persecution more obvious than ever—simply because so many people needed help. The clear discrimination and oppression suffered by Christians in 2020 must not be forgotten, even after the COVID-19 crisis fades into our collective memory.
- The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the most vulnerable Christians
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the persecution of Christians. But it’s also shown how vulnerable so many of our sisters and brothers are in the places where they live. Christians who abandon a majority faith to follow Christ know they risk losing all support from spouses, families, tribes and communities, as well as local and national authorities. If they lose income due to COVID-19, they can’t fall back on customary networks for survival.
For church leaders, COVID-19 also exposed how difficult daily life is. Many are not paid salaries, but depend on financial support from community donations. When church services stop, donations drop—by about 40 percent, said leaders ranging from Egypt to Latin America. This also affects humanitarian assistance to their own communities, both inside and outside churches.
- Lockdowns didn’t matter: The violence is astounding
In much of the world, violence against Christians actually decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. But across sub-Saharan Africa, that wasn’t the case. Christians there faced up to 30 percent higher levels of violence than the previous year. Several hundred mostly Christian villages in Nigeria were either occupied or ransacked by armed Hausa-Fulani Muslim militant herdsmen; sometimes, fields and crops were destroyed as well. Boko Haram—and splinter group Islamic State of West Africa Province—continue to plague Nigeria and northern Cameroon.
- The terrifying technological reality of persecution
As China’s global influence spreads, it exports its all-pervasive systems for “protection” and “security”—which can be seen now to brutally oppress the Uighur population in Xinjiang. Chinese companies are supported by the government to supply AI surveillance technology to 63 countries, including countries on the 2021 World Watch List like Myanmar, Laos, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, in India, religious minorities fear contact-tracing apps will have “function creep” and will be used to keep an eye on them and their movements. Another app, already in use, can predict age, gender and race. India’s data protection bill does not cover surveillance. Indeed, it has provisions to allow the government to bypass protection standards and even consent in circumstances such as national security or crime investigation.
- When citizenship is tied to a faith
In countries like India and Turkey, religious identity is increasingly tied to national identity—meaning, to be a “real” Indian or a good Turk, you must be a Hindu or a Muslim, respectively. This is often implicitly—if not explicitly—encouraged by the ruling government. In other countries on the World Watch List, religious identity is closely tied to national identity, and anyone who follows Jesus risks being seen—and persecuted—as a bad citizen.