WASHINGTON — There are more than 215 million persecuted Christians worldwide, according to the 2018 “World Watch List,” Open Doors USA’s annual ranking of the 50 worst countries for violence and persecution against Christians.
The report found that one in 12 Christians worldwide are victims of violent persecution. Open Doors USA cites the spread of radical Islam and increasing religious nationalism as the two major drivers of global Christian persecution.
North Korea tops the list of worst offenders, as it has for the past 16 years. Although the communist North Korean government claims to provide freedom of religion in its constitution, no one can be openly Christian within the atheist state without facing arrest, re-education in a labor camp, or, in some cases, execution.
Despite the danger, Open Doors USA finds that there has been tremendous growth in underground Christianity in North Korea in the last two decades. The report estimates that there might be up to 300,000 Christians living clandestinely in North Korea.
Afghanistan comes in a close second in this year’s “World Watch List” ranking. Afghan citizens in this 99%-Muslim country are banned from becoming Christian. Open Doors USA reports that underground Christians in Afghanistan have been killed by their own family members, who viewed the Christian conversion as a shameful apostasy.
Islamic oppression continues to be a growing concern for many Christians around the world. For eight of the top 10 countries on the list, Islamic extremism is the primary cause of Christian persecution.
Islamic militancy has been on the rise in Somalia, where Christians, if discovered, are often martyred. Christians in Egypt, India, Libya, and Kazakhstan also experienced increased persecution since last year’s report.
Pakistani Christians experienced the most documented violence, according to the report. Islamic militants in Pakistan specifically target Christians. A suicide bomb on Easter Sunday 2016 killed 74 people and injured hundreds more.
In addition to the spread of radical Islam, the report identified a rise in religious nationalism and intense persecution in central Asia as major trends in the persecution of Christians. Hindu nationalism has increased in India and Nepal, as has Buddhist nationalism in Burma and Sri Lanka. And persecution of Christians in central Asian nations, including Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, is intensifying under nationalist, pro-Islamic governments.
Also included on the list were Mexico and Colombia, where organized crime and corruption were cited as the source of Christian persecution.
Open Doors USA documented that 3,066 Christians were killed; 1,252 were abducted; 1,020 were raped or sexually harassed; and 793 churches were attacked within the reporting period for the 2018 list.
The World Watch List includes specific prayers requests for each of the top 50 countries, recalling Open Doors USA’s founder Brother Andrew’s faith in the power of prayer to aid those who are suffering afar: “Our prayers can go where we cannot. … There are no borders, no prison walls, no doors that are closed to us when we pray.”