13 January 2016
The 2016 Open Doors World Watch List, released today, shows that global persecution of Christian is more extreme than ever before.
Although the attention of the world's press and politicians has been on persecution in Syria and Iraq, those countries are just the tip of the iceberg.
Systematic religious cleansing is widespread across Africa and the Middle East. Every year well over 100 million Christians are persecuted because of their beliefs. Extreme Islamic fundamentalism is rising most sharply in sub-Saharan Africa, where more people are killed for their Christian faith than anywhere else in the world.
Open Doors records show that worldwide there were well over 7,000 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the reporting period. That is a rise of almost 3,000 in comparison to the figures from the previous year. (And this excludes North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist.) Statistics also show that around 2,300 churches were attacked or damaged, which is over double the number for last year.
Summing up this year's figures, Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland said: "The persecution of Christians is getting worse, in every region in which we work - and it's getting worse fast. "
NORTH KOREA STILL NUMBER ONE
For the fourteenth consecutive year, North Korea is number one on the list: it remains the worst place on earth to be a Christian, with estimates of around 70,000 Christians imprisoned in labour camps. Others who worship in secret risk death if they are discovered.
But other countries have seen increasing persecution and oppression. Iraq (2) has replaced Somalia (7) as the second most dangerous place to be a Christian, while Eritrea - the so-called 'North Korea of Africa' - jumped six places to number three. Afghanistan (4), Syria (5) and Pakistan (6) are the next most difficult places for Christians.
India (17), the second most populous country in the world, has seen persecution levels rise dramatically for the third year running, rising to number 17 from a ranking of 31 in 2013.
Despite the gloomy news, however, there is hope.
"In many parts of the world, despite the pressure and the often terrible cost, the church continues to grow," says Lisa Pearce. "There is always hope, and yet we are in unmarked territory - the pace and scale of persecution of Christians is unprecedented and growing fast."