Open Doors has released its World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians worldwide.
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Northern Nigeria, which is majority Muslim, puts this important African state at number thirteen. Reports Open Doors: “The main persecution engine in northern Nigeria is Islamic extremism.” A recent rise in deaths caused the organization to raise Nigeria from 23 to 13: “this change highlights the structural process in which social groups firmly linked to a dominating religion (Islam) and government drive each other into a ‘vicious circle’ of suffocating religious minorities (Christians) in the sharia dominated areas of Northern Nigeria.”
At number fourteen is another Islamic African nation, Mauritania. Says Open Doors, “Because of harsh government restrictions, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for Christian missions and Christians in general to operate in the country.” Like other Islamic states, Mauritania “does not include any provision for religious freedom in its constitution, and its laws prohibit conversion to Christian faith. The sentence for apostasy is death,” adds the group.
Another long-time persecuting U.S. ally is Egypt, which holds the fifteenth position. For Christians, at least, the Arab Spring has turned into an Arab Winter. Open Doors details the sad tale: “…as the Islamists succeeded in the events following the constitutional referendum, the government was unable to restore necessary law and order.” Violence is increasing and “Persecution of Christians in Egypt is on the rise, with a substantial increase in numbers killed, physically harmed and churches/houses attacked.”
In recent decades Sudan has been among the most tragic of nations, with more than a million or more people killed in long-running domestic conflict. Despite a reduction in fighting, Sudan still comes in at number sixteen on the World Watch List. “The main persecution engine in Sudan is Islamic extremism,” observes Open Doors: “persecution has increased rapidly over the past 12 months.” Moreover, “The number of formally reported killings is limited, but the whole Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile area has seen thousands killed, religion being one factor.”
Next at seventeen is the small Himalayan (and largely Buddhist) country of Bhutan. The new constitutional monarchy is democratizing, with some improvement in the status of Christians. Reports Open Doors: “The church in Bhutan is no longer an underground church, since Christians are allowed to meet in private homes regularly on Sundays without any interference by authorities; Christians in remote villages encounter more difficulties, though.” Moreover, the parliament is debating legislation to criminalize conversions.
At number eighteen is the Islamic and former communist republic of Turkmenistan, where, notes Open Doors, “the tight grip of the authorities on Christians continues.” This state’s repression appears to more reflect Turkmenistan’s communist than Muslim heritage. Alas, “All unregistered religious activity is strictly illegal” and “For native Turkmen communities, being registered is simply impossible, for the others it is difficult.”
Although Vietnam has moved away from doctrinaire communism, it is nineteen on the Open Doors World ranking. The organization explains that “Vietnamese authorities keep a close eye on all Christian activities in the country. Believers face more problems by officials, often being accused of causing ‘social disturbances’, ‘fighting the local government’ or simply ‘subversion.’ Church leaders are carefully monitored.”
Completing the top twenty is Chechnya, formally a republic within the Russian Federation. “The general religious climate in Chechnya has always been Islamic, and the influence of Islam is growing.” The government has discussed implementing sharia law and “Slowly but surely, the country is Islamizing.” Moreover, Muslim converts to Christianity “suffer greatly from government and family oppression.”
The terrible list goes on. Leading the next ten is China, a still nominally communist state where the situation remains mixed — better than during the Maoist era but still repressive. Then comes Qatar, one of the Muslim Gulf sheikdoms, which restricts Christian worship and conversion. Another repressive North African Islamic state, Algeria, follows, where, unfortunately, “oppression of Christians has been constant.” Next is the Islamic island of Comoros, which restricts expatriate worship and punishes Muslims who convert to Christianity.
Azerbaijan is both Islamic and former communist, which leads to persecution of Christians, in this case police raids, imprisonment, and more. In “liberated” but Muslim Libya the situation of Christians has not improved from the Gaddafi era. Islamic Oman restricts Christian worship by expatriates and pressures Christian converts. Islamic Brunei tightly regulates Christians and plans to introduce Islamic criminal law. The situation for Christians has improved somewhat in Morocco, another Muslim North African state, where “the main source of persecution is Muslim fundamentalist influence on the authorities and in society.” Kuwait always has been a fairly liberal Islamic state, but pressure on Christians remain; “the main persecution engines are family and Muslims extremists, and to a lesser extent authorities.”
The next group of ten is: Islamic but nominally secular Turkey, where “various forms of persecution of Christians” nevertheless occur; Hindu India, where “The main persecutors are mobs organized by extremist Hindu organizations”; Buddhist Burma, where the army long has victimized largely Christian ethnic minorities such as the Karen and Kachin; Muslim and former communist Tajikistan, which recently implemented new restrictive church registration laws; Islamic Tunisia, where pressure on Christians has increased since the “Jasmine Revolution”; Muslim but secular Syria, where support of Christians for “the Alawite regime in the past has made them vulnerable to attacks from the opposition”; the Islamic United Arab Emirates, a relatively liberal Gulf sheikdom which nevertheless restricts Christian practices; religiously mixed Ethiopia, where persecution has come from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as Islamic extremists; Muslim Djibouti, where family law discriminates against Christians; and Jordan, where Christian proselytism is forbidden and Islamic converts to Christianity continue to suffer.
Bringing up the rear are communist Cuba, former communist and still repressive Belarus, Muslim Indonesia, the Islamic Palestinian Territories, former communist and Islamic Kazakhstan, Muslim Bahrain, democratic and Catholic Colombia (where organized crime targets Christian social reformers), former communist and Islamic Kyrgyzstan, Muslim Bangladesh, and Muslim Indonesia. Christians suffer from a variety of repressions, debilities, pressures, and discriminations in these nations.
Persecution of any religious believer is a moral outrage, a violation of individual conscience and assault on human dignity. But the principle source of religious persecution today is unambiguous: Islam. As Open Doors emphasizes, 38 of 50 persecutors are Muslim. Nine of the top ten and the three largest risers (Northern Nigeria, Egypt, and Sudan) are Muslim. Islamic extremism is the “usual suspect” among persecutors around the world.
The U.S. government should include religious liberty in its dialogue over human rights with other countries. Moreover, as individuals and in community with one another Americans — not just Christians or people of faith, but anyone who believes in human life, dignity, and freedom — should target persecutors and support the persecuted. If nothing else, those persecuted for their faith should not stand alone.
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