In Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday more than 250 people, 45 of them children, were killed in attacks on three churches and hotels; more than 500 people were injured.
• Bombs killed 20 at a Catholic church in Jolo in the southern Philippines.
• In China, state-sanctioned and ‘underground’ churches have been harassed or shut down in at least 23 provinces. In Xinjiang, at least one state-sanctioned church is known to require congregants to queue for facial recognition checks.
• In the West African state of Burkina Faso, violent Islamic militants have killed church leaders, kidnapped families for ransom and burned down churches and schools.
• In Egypt, seven Coptic Christians were killed when terrorists attacked their bus as they visited a monastery. The attack was in the same place where 28 Copts were killed less than 18 months before, when masked gunmen opened fire on their vehicles.
• In Iran, 194 Christians were arrested, 114 in one week just before Christmas 2018; several house churches were raided across nine cities.
In the latest annual survey of countries around the world to monitor how difficult it is to live as a Christian, the overall trend in the World Watch List (WWL) 2020 is that 73 – as in WWL 2019 – showed extreme, very high or high levels of persecution*.
Among the World Watch List’s top 50 alone, 260 million Christians face a level of persecution measured as extreme, very high, or high.
Open Doors International, which creates the annual list, estimates there are at least a further 50 million Christians facing high levels of persecution among the 23 countries that did not rank high enough to qualify for the top 50.
Altogether, it says that that’s 1 in 8 Christians worldwide who face persecution measured as extreme, very high, or high.
The List, based on extensive surveys combined with expert interviews and released yesterday (15 January) peers behind the global headlines of cases such as the Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, who was finally freed from death row to start a new life in Canada in May 2019.
In some countries — China and Eritrea, for example – it is governments that pressure Christians, sometimes with violence. In the Middle East, South-east Asia, East Africa and the Sahel, it is other forces that make life for Christians insecure. In the Sahel, especially, the rise of Islamist militancy has become a challenge not only to Christians but also to the existence of states and governments in the region, and thus to the rest of the world.
“Since 1992 Open Doors has been monitoring the plight of Christians persecuted for their faith around the world,” said Open Doors International Chief Executive Dan Ole Shani. “From World Watch List 2002 onwards, North Korea has ranked as the worst country for them. This year Afghanistan is a close second, then Somalia. We’ve seen little change in the Top 10 this year, which includes conflict-torn countries such as Libya and Yemen. But the number of countries where Christians face a high level of persecution has grown due to increasing pressure and violence from their families, work colleagues, communities, police, legal systems and state structures.”
As for Eritrea, in May 2019 the UN heard that hundreds of Christians face detention as “religious freedom continue[s] to be denied”. In June, the government suddenly seized and closed all 22 Catholic-run health clinics and arrested five Orthodox priests. In August, Eritrea’s Orthodox patriarch, placed under house arrest by the government in 2007, was expelled from his own Church on accusations of heresy by pro-government bishops.
China has risen four places this year, from no. 27 in WWL 2019 to 23. The average score for pressure on Chinese Christians rose; it increased in all spheres of life, as new regulations on religion rolled out countrywide. These restrict not just the so-called ‘underground’ house-churches, but also state-sanctioned churches in the Three Self Patriotic movement (TSPM) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Religion is banned from the public sphere; some teachers and medical staff have been pressured to sign documents saying they have no faith. In some areas, elderly people have been told their pensions will be cut if they do not renounce their Christian faith. All this comes against a backdrop of increasingly all-pervasive surveillance via facial recognition and other technology.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Photo:Catholic in Pakistan