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A record 365 million Christians persecuted worldwide, says Open Doors

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The evangelical NGO “Open Doors” publishes its annual Watch List that ranks the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. North Korea is still No. 1.

By Matthieu Lasserre

La Croix Int’l (18.01.2024) – Once again, North Korea is the most dangerous place in world to be a Christian, according the latest annual report issued by Open Doors, the non-denominational NGO founded in 1955 to offer support to those persecuted for their faith in Christ.

But in its 2024 Watch List, a yearly ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most sever persecution, Open Doors notes that Nigeria alone accounted for 82% of Christians who were killed last year killed because of their faith. The report — which covers the twelve-month period between 1 October 2022 and 30 September 2023 — was unveiled on January 16.  

Of of the 4,998 Christians who died because of their religious affiliation during that period, Open Doors said 4,118 were in the massive West African country. That’s a significantly higher figure than in other nations such as Congo (261), India (160), Uganda (55), Myanmar (34), or neighboring Burkina Faso (31).

Nigeria also ranks third in the number of “targeted” churches, meaning those that were destroyed or closed by authorities. Africa’s most populous country also leads in the unfortunate ranking of the number of Christians who were kidnapped last year (3,300 out of 3,906).

“These abductions target both forcibly converted young married girls and church leaders because it allows for substantial ransoms,” said Illia Djadi, the Open Doors analyst for West Africa.

“When pastors are released, they are so traumatized that they keep a low profile afterward,” she said during a press conference to present the Watch List.

200 deaths on Christmas Day

This insecurity was tragically highlighted on Christmas Day when nearly 200 Christians were massacred in Plateau State in the central Nigeria. The attack, which led to the burning of eight churches, forced thousands of people to flee the region, according to sources on the ground that Open Doors interviewed. According to the NGO’s officials, several survivors reported the perpetrators shouted “Allah Akhbar” during the attack.

“The Sahel jihadist groups are recruiting new members from the Fulani ethnic group, who are Muslim and nomadic, and are suffering from poverty due to the disappearance of herds caused by climate change,” continued Djadi. “Christians are not the only targets, but they are a preferred target for these groups.”

And with instability in countries in the Sahel region, these terrorist groups are proliferating and moving further south. Nevertheless, the number of Christians killed for their faith in Nigeria has decreased this year.

“For the tenth consecutive year, Nigeria is the top country in terms of Christians killed,” the Open Doors analyst affirmed. “Despite this, we have seen that thanks to security measures put in place for elections, this number has decreased. However, after the election period, we saw things resuming with renewed vigor. People on the ground feel abandoned by the West.”

Moreover, with its 200 million inhabitants, a security crisis could constitute a new migration crisis for Europe.

Besides Nigeria, the 2024 Watch List notes the explosion in the number of church closures worldwide, estimated at over 14,000. That’s three times higher than the previous year. China alone is responsible for about 10,000 closures by authorities.

“The period covered by the report coincides with the lifting of health measures in the country,” explained Guillaume Guennec, advocacy director for the Open Doors. “Everything reopened except unapproved churches that did not fit the Chinese government’s sinicization logic of Christianity.”

Overall, the NGO estimates that Christians face “very strong” persecution in 78 countries, up from 76 last year. More than 365 million Christians — or one in seven — face extreme persecution worldwide. This is a new record.

Open Doors say the top 10 countries where Christians are most persecuted are North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, and Afghanistan. It also warns that in the Middle East and North Africa “Christians are becoming less and less at home.”

“It’s worrying when you consider that previous data was collected while ISIS was in that territory,” said Guennec, referring to the rise in blasphemy accusations in Iraq or a new exodus in Syria.

Open Doors has published the Watch List since 1993. The ranking uses a point system based on data collected in the field, “hammer” actions (beatings, murders, church destruction, etc.) and “vice” actions (oppression and restrictions on believers in their private, family, social, civil, or ecclesiastical life). While it is the work of an advocacy group, it is also an analytical tool that’s used by various institutions and the media.

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Published by Human Rights Without Frontiers

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