Nigeria rises three places: more Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria than the rest of the world combined. Violence in sub-Saharan Africa is also why DRC (40) and Mozambique (45) are in the top 50 this year, up from 57 and 66 respectively.
Sudan has fallen six places on the World Watch List – since former president Omar Al-Bashir was ousted, Islamic law has been removed and religious freedom is progressing.
China is in the top 20 for the first time in a decade, and continues a dramatic rise up the World Watch List – believers are intensely monitored by the state, using sophisticated and oppressive technology.
Violence against Christians in Iraq has increased sharply in the past year, which is why the country has risen four places compared to the previous year.
More than 340m Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith. In the World Watch List top 50 alone, 309m Christians face very high or extreme levels.
That’s one in 8 worldwide, 1 in 6 in Africa, 2 out of 5 in Asia, and 1 in 12 in Latin America.
Open Doors’ mission is to ensure that persecuted Christians do not suffer alone – but are connected to the worldwide church for support and encouragement.
This overview of persecution trends will give some insight into the experience of Christians who follow Jesus no matter the cost.
For the first time in the World Watch List’s 29 years, every country in the top 50 is ranked as experiencing ‘very high’ or ‘extreme’ levels of persecution. Twelve countries are in the ‘extreme’ category, up from 11 the year before. Outside of the top 50, an additional 24 countries are categorised as having ‘very high’ or ‘high’ levels of persecution.
Open Doors research reveals the extent to which Christians are being specifically excluded from receiving Covid-19 aid. Incidents have been recorded across Asia and Africa – where vulnerable Christians are deliberately neglected by local authorities when food is distributed, Christian nurses are denied vital personal protective equipment, and some Christians are baselessly blamed for the spread of the virus.
Of the six countries where Christians experience the most outright violence, five are in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria – which re-entered the top 10 for the first time since 2015 – saw the most violence against Christians in 2020, with armed Fulani militants killing, burning, kidnapping and raping with impunity. Islamist violence also is why Cameroon rose to 42 from 48, and why Democratic Republic of Congo (40) and Mozambique (45) – are new entries to the top 50.
Increasingly, countries are using modern surveillance methods to monitor citizens for their own ‘protection’ and ‘security’. A mix of new laws and increased surveillance have propelled China (up to 17 from 23) back into the top 20 for the first time in a decade.
Since the 2016 attempted coup against President Erdogan, Turkey (25) has pursued a much more open Islamist and nationalist agenda. Increasing violence and intolerance directed towards Christian minorities resulted in it rising 11 places. In India (10), rising Hindu nationalism continues to claim that ‘to be Indian is to be Hindu’.
In 2020, there was good news for Christians in Sudan. First, in July, the transitional government announced an end to the death penalty for apostasy (renouncing Islam), as well as other reforms that repealed laws that violated human rights. Then, in September, the government agreed to remove Islam as its state religion. Its new constitution guarantees freedom of religion and omits sharia as its primary source of law. Most recently, Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Sudan have signed a declaration, joining forces to promote religious freedom.
This is an extraordinary and very welcome change for Sudan, which falls several places in the World Watch List (from 7 to 13). There is still a lot of resistance to such sweeping changes but life for Sudan’s 6% Christians is improving, such as when a court found eight church leaders innocent of charges that have hung over them for three years.
Sri Lanka is no longer in the World Watch List Top 50, having fallen 22 places, from number 30 to number 52. This is much welcome news after the gruesome church bombings at Easter 2019, in which more than 250 people were killed. Thankfully, 2020 saw no incidence like this in the country.
Though the pandemic has served as a catalyst to intensify the persecution of vulnerable Christians, it has also provided thousands of opportunities to show the love of Jesus. That includes 283,000 believers in Asia who received Covid-19 food and aid, as well as hundreds of thousands in Africa. Many were in desperate need, having lost their income due to lockdown restrictions.
Persecuted believers have also been able to show the love of Christ to their communities. One of the most powerful stories was of a Christian community in Sri Lanka who shared essential Covid-19 aid with their neighbours – including those who had recently physically attacked them.
The World Watch List shows that against all odds, the church is active and alive. Persecution is rising – but that only happens where Christians are living out their faith, and taking a stand for the gospel even when it costs the most.