“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Produced by Open Doors for two decades, the annual World Watch List (WWL) lists the world’s worst areas for Christian persecution. Of the 50 nations profiled on the Open Doors 2016 World Watch List as the worst for persecution, more than half ranked worse than in 2015. According to WWL analysts, this reflects increased persecution in one or more of five key spheres: private life, family life, community life, national life, and church life. However, persecution may be underestimated as public discourse becomes suppressed. “It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness … you may find very low levels of violence as a result since … persecutions often result from acts of witness,” explains Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Director of Research at Open Doors International.
Significant trends noted in the 2016 World Watch List are:
● Governments became more fearful of Islamic extremism, responding by either (a) boosting nationalism as a counter-force or (b) tightening regulations and increasing surveillance over all religious expression.
● “Sleeper” cells — small groups of terrorists that penetrate opposing organizations — are appearing in many areas
● More states are lawless, with minorities suffering at the hands of violent groups A major cause of the increase in 2016 was attributed to the rise of Islamic extremist self-styled caliphates which have expanded across additional international borders. “The martyrdom of Christians and the direct, targeted attack [against] Christians has escalated in a way that I don’t think anyone could’ve seen,” says a spokesperson for Open Doors. Muslims throughout the world are becoming radicalized out of fear that extremists may take over their areas, and even entire governments are responding in fear. The most rapidly growing areas of persecution are in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.
Worst Three Persecuting Countries
North Korea heads the World Watch List for the 14th consecutive year now (see table). With a population of 24.5 million, Kim Jong Un has continued to consolidate his power, and no changes or even improvements have been seen. Following the celebration of the ruling Korean Workers Party’s 70th anniversary in October 2015, it is difficult to determine the validity of the news released by the country. The 300,000 Christian minority is looked upon with disdain by the government, and comments emerge such as Christianity being “opium for the people” (a similar comment as other Communist countries).
Christians have lived for two millennia in Iraq, the second most persecuting country, but are now on the verge of extinction within a population of 36 million. Iraq has suffered years of structural uncertainty, conflict, and instability under a government incapable of enforcing the rule of law and providing even a minimum of security. The semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north and the large remaining Arab part in the south are at odds culturally and linguistically. Most of Iraq’s oil resources are near Kirkuk and Mosul, the border areas between Kurdish and Arab Iraq, and these are amongst the most violent places of Iraq. Christians are caught in the crossfire of two different battles: one for a Kurdish autonomous country and one for a religious cleansing of Iraq by terrorist groups who wish to make the country purely Islamic.
In third place is little known Eritrea, north of Ethiopia on the Horn of Africa, with a population of 6.7 million, one-third of which is Christian. Its regime is absolutely authoritarian and intolerant towards any form of association, dissent and free expression.
Worst (of Fifty) Persecuting Countries
1 North Korea
Source: 2016 Open Doors World Watch List