The persecution of Christians is increasing year over year. Across the globe, more than 245 million believers face intimidation, prison—even death—for their faith in Jesus Christ. That’s one in nine Christians worldwide suffering under the hands of their persecutors.
While religious persecution is spread over many countries, there are some areas where the hostility is particularly intense. These pockets of concentrated persecution are due to the focused efforts of either one person or a larger system bent on smashing or squeezing out Christians in the region.
The list below highlights some of the greatest human rights offenders toward Christians. The list of persecutors is not comprehensive or in any particular order, and there are many more who could be added.
We share this list not to stir up anger—although righteous anger is expected—but to move us all toward prayer and action. Jesus commanded us, directly, to pray for our enemies, our persecutors. So please use this list as a powerful prayer tool.
As Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors says, no door is closed to the power of prayer. “Through prayer, we have the ability to move beyond borders and into the very presence of our enemies…”
Pray that God would stop these persecutors’ actions, change their hearts and shine the brilliant light of the gospel onto their path—much like He did with the apostle Paul, one of the most aggressive persecutors in the time of the early church.
Here are some of the top persecutors of Christians worldwide.
For nearly 2,000 years, Christianity has had a presence in countries like Iraq; however, the brutal and targeted attacks from ISIS have driven many Christians to flee these areas. Ten years ago, there were nearly 1 million Christians living in Iraq, with a large majority of the population living in Mosul. Today, ISIS has been driven out of Iraq and Syria for the most part, but now they are spreading to Southeast Asia and West Africa. The terrorist group claimed responsibility for the Easter Sunday 2019 bombings, including three churches, in Sri Lanka. Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi is the current leader of ISIS in western Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.
While ISIS is in the news, Al-Qaeda has continued to fight in countries throughout the Middle East, often marking Christian communities as specific targets. In countries like Yemen, Christian converts from Islam are particularly vulnerable as they are already treated as outcasts by their own communities. As Al-Qaeda takes advantage of distracted governments, Christians in their path experience intense persecution. Ayman al-Zawahiri, is the current leader of Al-Qaeda.
North Korea has for years been one of the worst persecutors of the Christian church. Kim Jong-un has only increased this terrible legacy, continuing the nation’s policy of outlawing any practice of the Christian faith. Prayer, church meetings and owning a Bible are all against the law, with violators being sent to prison camps, or even facing the death penalty. It’s because of this that North Korea is the #1 worst persecutor of Christians in the world according to the 2019 World Watch List.
Above: Hindu radicals confiscate and burn Bibles on the roadside in India
The far-right Hindu nationalist movement in India seeks to wipe out any religious expression, including Christianity, that falls outside of the Hindu faith. The movement’s mission is to make India a complete Hindu nation by 2021. The predominant Hindu nationalist association is referred to as the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). This movement has created a culture war and made it very dangerous and difficult for many Christians living in the region who are often forced out of villages, beaten and arrested for believing in Jesus.
The radical Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab is, in many ways, the Eastern African version of al-Qaeda (a group they once had an uneasy union with). Al-Shabaab has terrorized Somalia for the past decade and is recently focusing its attacks on neighboring country of Kenya. In 2015, a Kenya college campus faced an attack where Christian students were specifically targeted, killing 148 in total. Any place al-Shabaab controls operates under Sharia law, which includes the slaughtering of anyone who identifies as Christian.
Boko Haram made global news when fighters kidnapped over 200 girls from a local school (when the world took notice and responded with #BringBackOurGirls); however, this was nothing new for the Nigerian Islamic terrorist group who have kidnapped thousands of people, many who are children.
The word haram means forbidden, and Boko Haram’s belief is that any sort of Western influence is heresy, especially Christianity. To this end, an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria has conducted raids, bombings and assassinations against any target it deems Western, especially churches and schools. They have taken out contracts on influential Christian leaders and are also at war with the Nigerian government.
In northern Nigeria’s Middle Belt area, the latest threat to Christian communities may arguably be even worse than an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria: Hausa-Fulani militants. Clashes with militants among the predominantly Muslim group have claimed thousands of Christian lives as they raze entire villages and brutally kill and rape. However, unlike the atrocities and attacks of an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria, The Fulani are a large ethnic group in West Africa. A third of all Fulani people are pastoralists, making them the largest nomadic community in the world. violence as a strike against Christians has gone relatively unreported in national news headlines.
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 persecution of Christians, is expanding in Asia (Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia) and Africa (Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia).
In Colombia and Mexico, drug cartels are prevalent in certain parts of the country. On top of the danger that these groups bring to ordinary citizens, Christians are specifically targeted. “A soul won for Jesus is a soul lost for them,” shared one pastor from Colombia. “They know that too.”
For this reason, Christian evangelists are particularly targeted. Drug cartel leaders know that Christians, especially pastors who often become leaders in a community, are the greatest threat to their way of life.
The newcomer to this list is the China Communist Party. Over the last two years, the CCP has rapidly advanced its persecution against China’s underground house movement, unregistered churches and even registered churches. In the last year, China has shuttered four large churches, has banned anyone under 18 from church, torn down crosses from churches, raided churches and arrested Christians, forced churches to install facial recognition cameras, the list goes on. China President Xi Jinping has made deliberate moves to establish himself as a cult personality among the Chinese people.
It’s easy to read this list and feel hopeless in the face of so much evil. However, in Ephesians 6 we’re told our war isn’t a physical war; it’s a spiritual one. Behind all of the atrocities listed above is Satan, who prowls this world as a roaring lion.
But we are also told that God’s Kingdom is forcefully advancing, and that in the end, Satan is overthrown and all things are made new.
So as we pray against the evil mentioned in this article, we can also pray with hope that God’s Kingdom would come, and His will would be done. Here on earth now, and then in completion for eternity.