Islamic extremism is the major persecuting force in 36 of the top 50 countries where Christians experience the most persecution, according to the Open Doors World Watch List. The List reveals the top 50 countries where persecution of Christians is the worst, and is updated annually.
North Korea tops the list, followed by Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Syria. Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Libya round out the top ten.
North Korea continues to top the list, for the 14th year straight, as leader Kim Jong Un continues to try and stamp out organised religion in what he views as a challenge to his power.
But the scale of North Korea’s persecution is eclipsed by the growth in Islamic extremism as a source of persecution. Open Doors says, “Since the late 1990’s the Christian population in Iraq (#2 on the list) has shrunk from over 1.5 million to less than 220,000. Of the Christians who remain, most are displaced in the north east of the country, as a result of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The group has executed many for refusing to convert to their brand of Islam and forced many others to flee. The group still hold large swathes of territory in both Iraq (#2) and neighbouring Syria (#5).”
“Islamic State and its affiliates took their barbarity across borders like never before: into Libya, Kenya, and Egypt, culminating in random massacres in Paris on 13 November and in San Bernardino in the US on 2 December 2015,” wrote Open Doors Director of Strategic Trends Ron Boyd-MacMillan in an analysis accompanying the Open Doors World Watch List. “There is a feeling globally that no one is safe from the reach of these newer jihadists, who can recruit, convert and train any one through the internet.”
Worries about expanding Islamic extremism have prompted governments to clamp down on what they see as “extremism”, squeezing Christians along with everyone else. Boyd-MacMillan said Central Asian governments have expanded surveillance of church activities, a move that typified what he characterised as “the year of fear.”
Eritrea is third on the list, and has been labelled by many as ‘the North Korea of Africa’. The small nation broke away from Ethiopia in 1991 in a bloody civil war. Since this time president Afewerki has maintained a brutal and oppressive reign imprisoning anyone considered to be a dissenter. Eritrea jumped from ninth to third on the list in just one year.
“Islamic extremism in the world today has two hubs, one in the Middle East, the other in sub-Saharan Africa,” Boyd-MacMillan said. “In numerical terms at least, though not in degree, the persecution of Christians in this region dwarfs what is happening in the Middle East.”
Pressure on Christians continues to rise across Africa, a trend that emerged in 2012 as the Arab Spring spread across the Arab world, and which looks set to continue. Sixteen of the 50 countries on the Open Doors World Watch List are African, a number greater than the 14 countries from the Middle East and Persian Gulf. When the list is expanded to 65 countries, a further nine African nations are added.
Afghanistan appears at number four and has been battling a continued insurgency from the Taliban.
India climbed into the top 20 (#17) for the first time, where Christians have suffered particularly through forced conversion ceremonies. Reportedly in some circumstances these ceremonies were on a scale of up to 400 people at a time, occurring in areas near the city of Varanasi.
Indonesia has jumped four spots to number 43 this year, after a spate of attacks on churches in October. One church was burned down while several others were closed due to a lack of proper registration
. This registration can often be held up by local authorities in an attempt to curb the growing number of Christians in the country.