Coronavirus Lockdown Has Increased Persecution Against Christians Worldwide

The 2021 “World Watch List” of nations most culpable for the persecution of Christians has revealed that preexisting trends of 2019 were amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A worshipper lights a candle at the Chaldean Catholic Church of St. Joseph in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on November 7, 2020. A few hundred thousand Christians are left in Iraq.
A worshipper lights a candle at the Chaldean Catholic Church of St. Joseph in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, on November 7, 2020. A few hundred thousand Christians are left in Iraq. (photo: Sabah Arar / AFP/Getty)

ROME — More than 340 million Christians worldwide have experienced a high level of persecution and discrimination in 2020. 

This alarming figure, communicated this month by NGO Open Doors in its annual “World Watch List” (WWL) of the 50 countries where Christians are the most persecuted, has significantly increased compared to the 2020 report, which already revealed an unprecedented level of antichristian violence across the planet.  

Presented by Open Doors’ Italian bureau during a Jan. 13 news conference at the Chamber of Deputies in Rome, the report — referring to the period between Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020 — mentioned in particular a 60% increase in the number of Christians killed because of their faith (4,761 in total, for an average of 13 every day). 

As in recent years, Africa remains the deadliest continent for Christians, especially Nigeria, as well as many parts of the sub-Saharan region. While the number of churches attacked or closed has decreased by half compared to last year, the number of Christians arrested and jailed without a process remains very high (4,277) as well as the number of abductions (1,710).

The overall intensification of the persecution highlighted by the report is notably evidenced by the fact that, for the first time in the WWL’s history, all of the 50 countries c recorded a “very high” or “extreme” level of persecution and discrimination. And like every year since 2002, North Korea ranks first among the greatest persecutors of Christians, followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Pakistan. 


Consequences of COVID-19 

Among the new tendencies analyzed by Open Doors’ researchers was the spread of nationalism based on a belonging to a religious majority in countries like Turkey and India, where discrimination against Christians are on the rise.

Moreover, the preexisting social, economic and cultural difficulties for Christians in the WWL’s countries were significantly amplified by the coronavirus epidemic, as it offered a pretext to new restrictions against religious freedom. “In these countries where Christian minorities are already persecuted, the pandemic, the lockdown, the isolation caused by the restrictive measures of individual governments, have somehow worsened and given rise to further discriminations and harassment against Christians,” Cristian Nani, director of Porte Aperte/Open Doors Italy, told the Register at the news  conference. 

These daily discriminations during the pandemic included in some cases the impossibility for Christians to receive government aid, food packages, or even masks.

“Among the countries which resort the most to these practices, I can definitely mention India in the first place, but also Bangladesh, Myanmar, while in Central Asia, in countries such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, events of this type have been seen: Christians were not even considered in the distribution of public aids.” 

The coronavirus also facilitated the expansion of criminal groups, including drug trafficking organizations and various cartels, in the countries of Central and South America — which, according to Nani, has had a severe impact on Christian communities. In sub-Saharan Africa, meanwhile, Islamic terror groups are able to commit abuses against Christians with a greater impunity since local health restrictions have reduced the presence of policemen and militaries in many areas.  

Such a situation has also terribly intensified domestic violence against women and children belonging to Christian minorities, which also resulted in an increase in kidnappings and forced marriages. 

But it is undoubtedly the practice of mass surveillance through technology as an instrument to eradicate religious freedom that spread the most over the past months. 

“In China, and also in India, monitoring systems were turned into a repressive method against religious activities, from the various Church services to the private lives of the church members,” Nani said. Noting that minors under 18 are not allowed to participate in religious activities in China, he added that this mass technological surveillance is more and more invasive, generating a very concerning context for the future of Christian communities. “I think it is a very important topic, with which we will all have to deal with sooner or later, even in the West, in every aspect of our lives.” 


No Human Rights Without Freedom of Worship

The growing global power of China, which has moved up from the 25th position to the 17th this last year in terms of persecution of Christians, is a particular subject of concern for many Western opinion leaders and politicians. It is one of the reasons that prompted Andrea Delmastro delle Vedove — a member of the Italian political party Brothers of Italy and co-founder, in 2019, of an interparliamentary group to defend the religious freedom of Christians across the world — to raise political leaders’ awareness by hosting Open Doors Italy’s annual news conference at the Chamber of Italian Deputies. 

In an interview with the Register, he reaffirmed the necessity to shed light on the Chinese government’s abuse against its Christian communities, especially since this country is climbing the summit of religious persecution while assuming a more and more hegemonic position on an international scale. 

According to Delmastro delle Vedove, defending religious freedom — a Christian principle that is situated at the very basis of human rights — is the first step in the defense of any other human freedom, and it is precisely the reason why it is fiercely combated by all dictatorial regimes. 

“All other freedoms are false if humanity is not granted the greatest freedom of all, the most primordial one, the one that humanity first encountered on its journey, and that is to profess one’s faith and worship one’s God in absolute freedom and security,” he said. 

Delmastro delle Vedove said that the first recourse, in order to have Christianity and religious freedom preserved worldwide, are bilateral treaties, which must be accompanied by international collaboration through the creation of funds to help persecuted populations on the ground. 

“In its 2021 Budget Law, the Italian government has addressed 5.3 billion euros to international cooperation, of which only 3 million were designated for persecuted Christians,” he said. “It seems far too little to me, it seems that today political leaders are underestimating the true problem of persecution in the world, that is religious persecution.”