The 10 most dangerous places for Christians

January 15, 2020 by Lindy Lowry in Africa

In 2020, persecution against Christians is on the rise—increasing at an alarming rate. Research for the Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List—the most in-depth investigative research and report on Christian persecution available—shows that today, more than 260 million people face persecution for their faith. An increase of 15 million (the combined population of New York, California and Chicago) in only one year.

 

Download the 2020 World Watch List here.

 

Every day, an average of eight Christians were killed for their faith and 23 Christians were raped or sexually harassed for faith-related reasons. Every week, an average of 182 Churches or Christian buildings were attacked, and 102 Christian homes, shops or businesses attacked, burned or destroyed. Every month, an average of 309 Christians were unjustly imprisoned for their faith.

 

Below, we look at the top 10 countries where persecution is highest. In many of these countries life is already difficult. Making the decision to follow Jesus and live as a Christian in these places is a choice that puts one’s life, family’s lives and livelihood in jeopardy. In certain countries like North Korea, Afghanistan and Somalia, converting to Christianity can be a death warrant.

1. North Korea: No. 1 for 19 consecutive years 

For three generations, everything in this isolated country has focused on idolizing the ruling Kim family. Christians are seen as hostile elements in society that must be eradicated. At all costs, they must keep their faith completely secret.

  • If a Christian has a Bible, or part of one, it will be carefully hidden and only read when the believer is sure they are alone.
  • Most Christians do not even tell their own children about their faith until they are older teenagers for fear that they may let something slip.
  • As you can imagine, gathering for worship in a church is non-existent. Daring to meet other Christians for worship is a risky feat that must be done in utmost secrecy.

When someone is discovered to be a Christian in North Korea, they will be arrested and imprisoned in one of North Korea’s terrible labor camps, or even killed on the spot; their families to the fourth generation share their fate as well.

Yet behind the news headlines, a massive underground church of an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 believers is growing in North Korea. And tens of thousands of these secret believers are held in concentration camps.

It is a miracle that this underground church in North Korea is able to exist. But more than that, it is growing.

One Christian has shared: “One day the borders will open and we will unite with the South Korean and the Chinese church to bring the gospel to some of the darkest places on this earth.”

2. Afghanistan: Where Christianity exists only in secret

Afghanistan is once again only a point behind North Korea’s ranking on the 2020 World Watch List. An Islamic state by constitution, the country does not permit any faith other than Islam to exist; is illegal to convert. To convert to a faith outside Islam is tantamount to treason because it’s seen as a betrayal of family, tribe and country.

Those who are discovered to be Christians may be sent to a mental hospital—because their families believe no sane person would leave Islam. They may also be beaten or even killed by family members, or members of Islamic extremist groups like the Taliban which continues to increase its strength.

Violence against Christians remains very high, but the measures taken against converts depends on the family. One Christian in Afghanistan says, “How we survive daily only God knows. He knows because He has been kind to dwell with us. But we are tired of all the death around us.”

Watch the 2020 World Watch List video

3. Somalia: Christians are hunted for their faith

Estimates suggest that 99 percent of Somali citizens are Muslims, and any minority religions are heavily persecuted. The violent extremist group, al-Shabab, which subscribes to the ultra-strict Islamic doctrine of Wahhabism, advocates Shariah law as the basis for regulating all aspects of life in Somalia. This group has repeatedly expressed its desire to eradicate Christians from the country.

In every sphere of life—private, family, community and national—being exposed as a convert to Christianity in Somalia means life-threatening danger, often leading to on-the-spot execution. As a result, most Somali Christians keep their faith completely secret. But despite the risks, Somali people are coming to faith in Jesus—some in miraculous ways.

In recent years, the situation appears to have worsened. Islamic militants have intensified their hunt for people who are Christian and in a position of leadership. An attempt to reopen a church in Hargeisa, Somaliland, failed; the government was forced to shut it down due to pressure from the local Islamic population. In the 2020 World Watch List reporting period, Christians in Somalia remained so vulnerable to attacks by Islamic militants that in the interests of security, Open Doors could publish no specific examples of persecution.

It's your story too

Because of Jesus and His work on the cross, Christians represented by the World Watch List are our family. For more than 60 years, Open Doors has served our brothers and sisters in more than 60 countries. We’re on the ground, working with churches to provide Bibles, emergency relief, trauma counseling, legal aid and advocacy—and lives are being changed, villages are being transformed. Would you be part of this powerful story that God is telling?

Give today

4. Libya: No freedom for Christians

After the ouster of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya plunged into chaos and anarchy. And that situation has not changed for Libyans. The continued absence of a single central government to uphold law and order has enabled various Islamic militant groups to control parts of the country. Libyan converts to Christianity face abuse and violence for their decision to follow Christ.

Christians are at risk all over the country, but especially vulnerable in areas where radical Islamic groups are present. ISIS still maintains a presence in the wider region around Sirte. Other groups, like those connected to the Islamic Dawn coalition control areas around Tripoli and some parts of Tripoli itself. In the East, radical groups are at least present in Benghazi.

Migrant Christians who have been arrested and detained while trying to reach Europe, often end up in one of the overcrowded detention centers around Tripoli. Others do not even make it that far, but are directly delivered into the hands of criminal officials or groups by their human traffickers. Subsequently, they are forced into heavy labor in the agricultural sector or pushed into prostitution.

5. Pakistan: Constant threat of mob attacks

In Pakistan, all Christians (4 million out 204 million people) suffer from institutionalized discrimination, illustrated by the fact that occupations seen as low, dirty and derogatory are reserved for religious minorities like Christians by the authorities. Many Christians are poor, and some are victims of bonded labor. There are Christians belonging to the middle class, as well, but this economic status doesn’t save Christians them from being marginalized or persecuted in an Islamic culture—believers are always at risk because of the country’s notorious blasphemy laws.

The country’s patriarchal culture is especially cruel to Christian women who are often targeted for both their faith and their gender. An estimated 700 girls and women abducted each year are raped and then forcefully married to Muslim men in the community, usually resulting in forced conversions.

6. Eritrea: Christians arrested in increasing police raids

Since 1993, President Afwerki has overseen an authoritarian, brutal regime that rests on massive human rights violations. Christians who aren’t members of state-approved churches are considered agents of the West and a threat to the state. Hundreds of Christians who are members of unregistered churches are in prison; some have been held captive for over a decade.

From June to August 2019, more than 150 Christians were arrested in the cities of Keren and Godayef. Reportedly, the 70 prisoners arrested in June were being held in prison in Ashufera. The term “prison” refers to a number of underground tunnels the prisoners are forced to extend, by digging.”

Christians from non-traditional church groups, such as evangelicals, face the harshest persecution. This extreme pressure and state-sanctioned violence are forcing some Christians to flee Eritrea—often called “Africa’s North Korea”—and seek asylum.

7. Sudan: Political chaos increases vulnerability

With the ouster of President al-Bashir, Sudan’s current political chaos has left Christians in limbo. The secession of South Sudan in 2011 has also made Christians more vulnerable, as Islamic conservatives in Sudan continue their push for a Shariah state. Recently, the government has arrested or intimidated many Christian leaders, and numerous churches have been demolished. Extremists have attacked Christians, especially in the Nuba Mountain region, where thousands of Christians have been killed or displaced.

Christian converts from Islam are especially targeted for persecution. So to keep from being discovered, converts will often refrain from raising their children as Christians because this might attract the attention of the government and community leaders (since children might inadvertently reveal their parents’ faith).

Recently, around Christmas of 2019, Sudan’s minster of religious affairs and endowments, Nasredin Mofreh, apologized to Christians, itemizing the treatments they’ve endured: “for the oppression and harm inflicted on your bodies, the destruction of your temples, the theft of your property and the unjust arrest and prosecution of your servants.” But how this will impact Christians, especially in remote areas, remains to be seen.

8. Yemen: Christians targeted in chaos of civil war

An ongoing civil war in Yemen has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the last decade, making an already difficult nation for Christians to live in even harder. The chaos of war has enabled radical groups to expand their operations in certain areas, leading to Christians being abducted and killed. Open church activities are forbidden, and leaving Islam is forbidden.

Christians are suffering from the general humanitarian crisis in the country, but Yemeni Christians are additionally vulnerable since emergency relief is mostly distributed through Islamic organizations and local mosques, which are allegedly discriminating against all who are not considered to be devout Muslims.

The Church in Yemen is composed mostly of Yemeni Christians with a Muslim background who must live their faith in secret. They face persecution from the authorities (including detention and interrogation), family and from radical Islamic groups who threaten apostates with death if they do not re-convert. Tribal law prohibits members from leaving the tribe. When Yemeni Muslims decide to follow Jesus, they can face the death penalty.

9. Iran: Illegal to convert from Islam

 

In this gateway to the Middle East, Christians are forbidden from sharing their faith with non-Christians, which means church services in Farsi, the national language, are not allowed. Converts from Islam undergo persecution from the government; if they attend an underground house church, they face the constant threat of arrest.

Iranian society is governed by Islamic law, which means the rights and job possibilities for Christians are heavily restricted. The government sees believers as an attempt by Western countries to undermine Islam and the Islamic regime of Iran. Leaders of groups of Christian converts have been arrested, prosecuted and have received long prison sentences for “crimes against the national security.”

Throughout 2019, Christians were arrested and imprisoned for house church activities. Few weeks went by when our field wasn’t reporting the arrest or prison summons of house church leaders and participants. Still, despite persecution, the church in Iran is growing exponentially—Iranian officials have even publicly acknowledged that “mass conversions are happening right under our eyes.”

10. India: Violent and spreading persecution

In the world’s second most populous country, Christians once again saw unprecedented persecution on numerous fronts from both the State and general Hindu society. For the second time, India ranks in the top 10 on the World Watch List. The outcome of 2019’s elections gave the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even more political power—emboldening ultra-nationalist radicals to spread their message that to be Indian is to be Hindu.

Several states in India have adopted anti-conversion laws, and the BJP has made it clear that it wants to impose these laws nationwide. Such laws are often used as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians, making it incredibly difficult for Christians to share their faith with others.

Christians in India face horrific levels of violence from extremists—thousands of attacks take place every year. And in rural India, Hindu tribes uses water and food as weapons against Christians, cutting them off from access to the village’s water supply and government-subsidized groceries. Converts to Christianity from a Hindu background are especially vulnerable to persecution and are constantly under pressure to return to Hinduism, especially through campaigns known as Ghar Wapsi (“homecoming”). They are often physically assaulted and sometimes killed.

In India, saying “yes” to Jesus has become a risky decision that costs Christians and their families greatly.

One Church, one Family

Open Doors estimates that there are at least a further 50 million Christians facing high levels of persecution in 23 other countries, such as Mexico, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Chad, that haven’t even made it on to the top 50.

The numbers are important. They help us frame the picture. But the World Watch List research offers a bigger vision and story. Behind every statistic and fact is a life, a family, a church that represents deep suffering but also courage and inspiring faith. People who know the consequences yet still choose Jesus. Through our Savior, we and every Christian living in North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan and the rest of the top 50 countries on the 2020 World Watch List are one Church, one Family.


To read more about these countries and the remaining 40 countries on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List, click here to see the list and download the full report. To help you pray with these believers, Open Doors has a mobile prayer app that alerts you to prayer requests from believers. Learn more about it and sign up to get regular updates delivered to your phone. 

Released at the beginning of each year, Open Doors’ annual World Watch List list uses extensive research, data from Open Doors field workers and external experts to quantify and analyze persecution worldwide. It is certified by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (www.iirf.eu), which carries out an annual audit of the list’s methodology.

 

Stand with your family

Right now, more than 260 million Christians worldwide are living in places where they face high persecution—just because they follow Jesus. But you can help. Through prayer and by supporting Open Doors’ work around the world, you are reminding God’s people they are part of one Church; part of one Family.

Help now
Share Your Comment

Related Stories

Download the 2020 World Watch List

Discover the top 50 countries where it's most difficult and dangerous to follow Jesus.