Read this important report in full – extracts below
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Introduction by Henrietta Blyth
Open Doors UK
In Central Asia early in 2020, a team from one of Open Doors partner organisations was distributing basic supplies during lockdown. As evening approached they realised there was one house they had not yet reached. They were concerned about breaking curfew and that their car might draw unwelcome attention from neighbours. But they prayed and decided to go anyway.
When they arrived they found a couple outside holding hands and praying, with the children inside. As they pulled up, the husband looked at them with tears in his eyes and said, “We have nothing. We were crying out to the Lord to give us something to give our children to eat tonight – and then you arrived.”
This is one of many stories that have haunted me in 2020. Lockdown meant daily wage earners were unable to work. Church leaders depend on the weekly collection – if their parishioners have no money, neither do they. The church was literally at risk of starving to death.
And Covid-19 placed yet more weapons in the hands of the persecutors. Christians have been discriminated against in the distribution of food aid in so many countries I have lost count. Violent attacks against Christians by Islamic extremists have increased significantly across sub-Saharan Africa. The pandemic has legitimised increased surveillance by totalitarian governments, with China leading the way. And nationalism driven by religious identity is increasing in countries such as India and Turkey.
Amidst all this, the new government in Sudan has brought changes, which give welcome glimmers of hope.
This annual World Watch List Report highlights the facts and figures. And of course, these things don’t only happen to Christians. It is tragic and unacceptable that they happen to anyone, whatever their faith or none. Christians will only be freed from persecution when freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) is guaranteed for all.
Throughout this global crisis we have seen churches providing comfort and life-saving support to their communities, Christian or not. From Sri Lanka to Iraq we hear how local faith actors make a positive difference. This report tells some of those stories. So while faith makes people vulnerable, that faith is also the driving force behind people who have proved to be a critical part of the solution. Open Doors is calling on the UK government to recognise the enormous value of working through local faith actors and to do whatever it takes to make this possible.
We have welcomed the UK government’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the Bishop of Truro’s Review and are encouraged by the progress that has been made. The new UK Forum on FoRB gives us an important platform to make common cause with stakeholders from all faiths and none to ensure that Article 18 remains on the government’s agenda.
Thank you for reading this report. And thank you for each and every positive action for those facing persecution that you take as a result.
Open Doors UK
The Top Ten
The ten countries where it is most difficult and dangerous to be a Christian in 2021
1 NORTH KOREA
Anyone identified as a Christian risks being deported to a labour camp as a political criminal or even killed on the spot; their families will share their fate. After the meetings between Kim Jong-un and President Trump, control tightened again, particularly near the border, which was closed because of the pandemic.
All Afghan Christians are converts from Islam and dare not live their faith openly. Leaving Islam is considered shameful and punishable by death under the prevailing Islamic law. If exposed as Christians, converts have to flee or be killed – the family, clan or tribe has to save its ‘honour’.
Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab has stated it wishes to eradicate Christians from the country. Somali Christians come from a Muslim background. Any conversion to Christianity is seen as a betrayal of the family and clan – suspected converts will be harassed, intimidated and even killed.
Libyan Christians with a Muslim background face violent and intense pressure from their family and the wider community to renounce their faith. Those from other parts of Africa are also targeted by various Islamic militant and organised criminal groups. Some Christians have been brutally killed.
Officially a Muslim state, all Christians suffer from institutionalised discrimination: occupations seen as dirty are reserved for Christians. Blasphemy laws encourage the targeting of all religious minorities. Underage girls can be subject to abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage. The pandemic saw aid being provided to some Christians on condition they converted to Islam.
The government has refused to recognise any religious group except the Eritrean Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran churches, and Islam. Many hundreds
of Christians from other church groups have been arrested and imprisoned. In June 2020, 30 people attending a wedding were detained.
Most Christians come from a Muslim background and need to live their faith in secret. They risk detention and interrogation from the authorities. Radical Islamic groups threaten them with death if they do not re-convert; the tribal punishment for conversion can be death or banishment. Emergency relief distribution is allegedly discriminating against all not considered to be devout Muslims.
Converts from Islam to Christianity bear the brunt
of persecution. Leaders of Christian convert groups have received long prison sentences for ‘crimes against national security’. Exorbitant sums are demanded for bail. In July 2020, $150,000 was set for house church leader Joseph Shahbazian, arrested with around 35 other Christians.
Christians are more at risk of violent attack in Nigeria than in any other country. More than 3,000 were killed in 2020, the level of violence described as ‘unprecedented’. Many radical Islamist groups are spreading havoc both within and outside of Nigeria.
Hindu nationalists insist that India is a Hindu nation. Converts to Christianity from a Hindu background are constantly under pressure to reconvert; they are often physically assaulted and sometimes killed. The recent proposal of further anti-conversion laws is unhelpful and may unleash further violence against Christians.
Open Doors UK
World Watch List Report 2021
The key findings in this report are:
• The persecution of Christians continues to worsen. In Open Doors’ World Watch List Top 50 alone, 309 million Christians face very
high or extreme levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith – an increase of 19 per cent since last year
• Globally, the number is even higher – more than 340 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith
• This year, for the first time ever, all top 50 countries score levels of at least very high
across the region, exploiting the inability
or unwillingness of governments to protect vulnerable communities. Nigeria (9) has entered the list of the top ten countries for the first time since 2015
• In Latin America, Covid-19 restrictions enabled organised criminal groups to extend their control, for instance in Colombia (30) and Mexico (37)
• Nationalism linked to and driven by majority religious identity continues to rise in countries such as India (10) and Turkey (25). This is stoking the fires of persecution as Christians are stigmatised as unpatriotic, belonging to a faith group characterised as ‘foreign’ or ‘Western’
The key changes in this year’s World Watch List are:
• Iraq has risen from (15) to (11), partly due to the ongoing insecurity of Christians returning to their homes. Christians continue to be killed, kidnapped and subjected to physical, psychological, sexual and emotional abuse
• China (17) is in the top 20 for the first time
in a decade. The Communist Party extended its regulation of all religions in 2020, and even government-approved churches, both Catholic and Protestant, are under ever-more surveillance, both online and offline
• But there is hope. Sudan (13) abolished the death penalty for apostasy. Its 2019 interim constitution guarantees freedom of religion, omits Sharia as its primary source of law and no longer specifies Islam as its state religion. While there has been significant resistance to such sweeping changes after 30 years, it has dropped from (7) to (13) in the list
• The three new entries to the World Watch
List top 50 are all from sub-Saharan Africa: Democratic Republic of Congo (40), Mozambique (45) and Comoros (50)
“More than 340 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith”
persecution; the top 12 scoring extreme levels of persecution, up from 11 the year before. Beyond the top 50, four more
countries also score very high. Overall, 74 countries — one more than last year – showed extreme, very high or high levels of persecution, affecting at least 1 in every 8 Christians worldwide; 1 in 6 in Africa; 2 in 5 in Asia, and 1 in 12 in Latin America
• The total number of Christians killed for their faith rose by 60 per cent to 4,761 – 3,530 of these were in Nigeria
• The Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated existing social, economic and structural vulnerabilities. Christians from West Africa to Yemen suffered discrimination over access to Covid relief. In India, 80 per cent of those receiving aid from Open Doors partners had been excluded from official distribution
• There was an increase in domestic vulnerability during lockdown, particularly for Christian converts and women. Reports of the kidnapping, forcible conversion and forced marriage of women and girls increased
• Islamic militancy exploited Covid-19 restrictions to gain ground in sub-Saharan Africa. Militants increased violent attacks