By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Religious extremism is intensifying globally, leading to increased persecution of Christians even in countries where religious freedom is constitutionally protected.
In 2017 at least 30 countries saw an increase in persecution against followers of Jesus, according to Open Doors USA, an organization that supports persecuted believers in more than 60 countries and reports annually on the most dangerous places in the world to live as a Christian. Open Doors also reported that approximately 215 million Christians experience “high, very high or extreme persecution for following Jesus” and that nearly 1 of every 12 Christians in the world lives where Christianity is illegal, forbidden or punished.
The release of Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is most severe shows that even in countries where religious freedom is supposed to be constitutionally protected, persecution against minority religions, especially Christianity, is increasing.
Take India, for example — a country whose constitution declares it a secular state — which has moved from No. 15 on Open Doors’ World Watch List in 2017 to No. 11 in 2018. Christians there are facing increasing levels of unrest and instability because of a rise in Indian nationalism and radical Hinduism. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reports that religious tolerance and religious freedom conditions continue to deteriorate in India as Hindu nationalist groups and their sympathizers use intimidation, harassment and violence against religious minority communities.
World Watch Monitor notes that the violence of these groups is often allowed by local, state and national authorities dominated by the Hindu nationalist political party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Indian President Narendra Modi also belongs to this party. Efforts to outlaw proselytism and enact so-called “anti-conversion laws” at the national level also are increasing in India. The religious unrest is spilling over into neighboring countries, which led to Nepal appearing on Open Doors’ list for the first time this year.
Other countries that made the list, including Nigeria, Azerbaijan and Iraq, also have constitutional protections for religious freedom yet fail to protect members of religious minorities from persecution.
North Korea is ranked first on the 2018 World Watch List for the 16th consecutive year. The rankings take into account the pressures faced by Christians in five spheres of life (private, family, community, national and church), and levels of religiously motivated violence against believers.
In North Korea, where more than 50,000 Christians are in prison or labor camps in the country, anything that threatens the communist rule of the Kim family is suppressed quickly and often violently.
However, Muslim extremism in many countries, including Afghanistan, which came in at No. 2 on the World Watch List, rivals the violence in North Korea. The Open Doors’ report said Afghanistan and North Korea nearly tied for the No. 1 spot — a first.
According to the report, “never before have the top two countries been so close in persecution incidents. Both countries are extreme in intolerance and outright persecution of Christian in all six areas of life that Open Doors monitors.”
Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, dropped a spot on the list, from No. 4 to No. 5, though it scored the highest in churches or church buildings being attacked, abductions and forced marriages.
In sub-Saharan Africa ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation is growing. Terrorism linked to extreme Islamists resulted in a number of countries making the World Watch List in 2018, including Somalia (No. 3), Sudan (No. 4), Nigeria (No. 14) and Kenya (No. 32).
Overall, countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are all experiencing intensifying persecution against Christians, with the greatest increases in persecution occurring in Egypt, India, Libya, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkey.
Christian women at risk
In many of these countries, Christian women are especially vulnerable. The Open Doors report estimates that every day, six women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage to a Muslim under threat of death because of their Christian faith. Open Doors documented 2,260 such incidences but the numbers are probably much higher since documentation is based on a woman’s willingness and freedom to report such an incident.
The overall increase in persecution of Christians through violent means and through laws designed to silence their voice should be a concern for all, according to the 2017 annual report of the USCIRF.
“Religious freedom, at its core, is the right of individuals and communities to manifest their religion or belief and is a basic human right. Protecting that right falls to each and every one of us, requiring people from all countries, political views and faiths to come together to fight religious persecution and work to protect religious freedom for all.”
• The countries where persecution increased the most are Egypt, India, Libya, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkey.
• Nepal and Azerbaijan are newcomers to the list.
• Comoros and Tanzania fell off the list.
• Pakistan saw the most violence recorded against Christians.
• Islamic extremism remains the global dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries on the list.
• Some 22 of the 50 countries on the list are in Asia.
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