Asia Rises on List of Top 50 Countries Where It’s Most Difficult to be a Christian

A damaged painting hangs on a the wall of a church at a relief camp in the village of Mondesore near Raikia, India
Image: Daniel Berehulak / Getty

Christian persecution has worsened in the most populous countries in the world, China and India, putting millions more believers at risk for their faith.

The two Asian nations moved up on Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian. India entered the World Watch List’s top 10 for the first time, due to a growing Hindu nationalist threat stirring anti-Christian sentiments. Meanwhile China, where the Communist government continues closing major congregations and detaining Christian leaders, climbed from No. 43rd to No. 27 on the list.

Researchers calculate that 1 in 3 Asian Christians now experience high levels of persecution for their faith.

Year after year, Open Doors has reported on the decline of religious freedom for Christians worldwide—measuring persecution through government restrictions, social pressures, and outright violence.

“In the north and Middle Belt of Nigeria … at least 3,700 Christians were killed for their faith—almost double the number of a year ago (an estimated 2,000)—with villages completely abandoned by Christians forced to flee, as their armed attackers then move in to settle, with impunity,” wrote World Watch Monitor in its analysis of the list. The news service noted that “of the 4,136 deaths for Christian faith that the List reports, Nigeria alone accounts for about 90% (3,731).”

Overall, 1 in 6 African Christians now experience high levels of persecution for their faith, according to Open Doors researchers.

The latest World Watch List indicates that religious freedom restrictions have also become more widespread, affecting 1 in 9 Christians worldwide. An estimated 245 million Christians in the 50 countries on this year’s rankings experience high levels of persecution compared to 215 million last year.

Of the 150 countries monitored by Open Doors, 73 now exhibit high to extreme levels of persecution; last year, only 58 countries showed the same. “[In 2019], 11 countries score highly enough to fit into the ‘extreme’ category for the level of persecution of Christians,” noted World Watch Monitor. “It was the same last year, but five years ago, only North Korea was in that category.”

The rise corresponds with the Pew Research Center’s 2018 report on the global rise in religious antagonism overall, which found that 83 percent of the population lives in places with “high” or “very high” religious restrictions, since some of the most restrictive countries—again, China and India—are also the world’s largest. The worsening restrictions represent the biggest surge in religious hostility in over a decade, according to Pew.

The World Watch List’s No. 1 spot has gone to the same place for 18 years running: North Korea, where Christianity is banned. Besides North Korea and India at No. 10, all others at the top of the rankings are majority-Muslim countries with a Christian minority: Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, and Iran.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Kate Shellnutt