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340,000,000 Christians now persecuted worldwide

Every day around the world, 13 Christians are killed for their faith; 12 are illegally arrested or imprisoned; 5 are abducted; and 12 churches or other Christian buildings are attacked worldwide.

These are among some of the disturbing findings of the recently released Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List (WWL-2021). This annual report ranks the top 50 nations in which Christians are most persecuted for their religion.

All in all, “More than 340 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith.” About 309 million of these Christians “suffer very high or extreme levels. That’s one in 8 worldwide, 1 in 6 in Africa, 2 out of 5 in Asia, and 1 in 12 in Latin America.” (Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes in this article are from the 2021 Open Doors World Watch List.)

More Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country. — Open Doors, World Watch List

For the reporting period covered by WWL-2021 (October 2019 – September 2020), “4,761 Christians were killed for their faith” — a 60% increase from last year (2,983). And that is just the reported number. An additional 4,277 Christians were unjustly arrested, detained, or imprisoned; 1,710 were abducted for faith-related reasons; and 4,488 churches or Christian buildings were attacked.

North Korean concentration camps may contain hundreds of thousands of Christians and their families.

For the twentieth year in a row, North Korea (#1) remained the worst nation:

“Being discovered as a Christian is a death sentence in North Korea. If you aren’t killed instantly, you will be taken to a labor camp as a political criminal. These inhumane prisons have horrific conditions, and few believers make it out alive. Everyone in your family will share the same punishment. Kim Jong-un is reported to have expanded the system of prison camps, in which an estimated 50-70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned.”

The “extreme persecution” that Christians experience in 10 of the absolute 12 worst nations comes from “Islamic oppression” or is occurring in Muslim majority nations. These include: Afghanistan (#2), Somalia (#3), Libya (#4), Pakistan (#5), Yemen (#7), Iran (#8), Nigeria (#9), Iraq (#11), and Syria (#12).

Among the worst, Afghanistan and Somalia, the “persecution is only very slightly less oppressive than in North Korea.” In the rest, Christians face persecution ranging from being harassed, beat, raped, imprisoned, or slaughtered merely for being identified as Christian or attending church.

READ: Helping African journalists report on persecution

Overall, the persecution Christians experience in 39 of the 50 nations on the list is also either from “Islamic oppression” or is occurring in Muslim majority nations. The overwhelming majority of these nations are governed by some form of shari’a (Islamic law). It is either directly enforced by government or society or, more frequently, both, although societies — family members in particular — tend to be more zealous in its application.


In India (#10) — the only non-Islamic nation alongside North Korea to make the top 12 — rising Hindu nationalism continues to use “extensive violence” against Christians based on the belief that “to be Indian is to be Hindu.” Christians are additionally “accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities. These believers are often physically attacked and sometimes killed, as well as being under constant pressure from their family and community to return to Hinduism.”

The “extreme persecution” that Christians experience in 10 of the absolute 12 worst nations comes from Muslim majority nations. These include: Afghanistan (#2), Somalia (#3), Libya (#4), Pakistan (#5), Yemen (#7), Iran (#8), Nigeria (#9), Iraq (#11), and Syria (#12).

Some of the more notable trends identified include:

Covid-19 was and is being “used as a weapon by persecutors,” according to Open Doors UK. Numerous incidents were “recorded across Asia and Africa—where vulnerable believers are deliberately neglected by local authorities when food is distributed, Christian nurses are denied vital PPE [personal protective equipment], and some Christians are even baselessly blamed for the spread of the virus.”


Mourners carry wreaths at the funeral of victims of the Bethel Memorial Church bombing, Quetta, Pakistan (World Watch Monitor)

The pandemic has become a “catalyst for religious persecution through relief discrimination, forced conversion, and as justification for increasing surveillance and censorship.”

“80% of Indian Christians helped by Open Doors say they were passed over for food distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Similarly, “Christians were left out of COVID-19 government relief in Bangladesh, often facing starvation or severe health issues.” And “some Christians in Ethiopia were discriminated against when government aid was distributed.” (See here for examples from other nations.)

Violence against and killings of Christians continued to rise “dramatically in sub-Saharan Africa,” according to Open Doors UK.

“Of the top six countries where Christians experience the most outright violence, five are in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria – which re-entered the top 10 for the first time since 2015 – saw the most violence against Christians in 2020, with armed Fulani militants killing, burning, kidnapping and raping with impunity. Islamist violence is also why Cameroon rose to 42 from 48, and why Democratic Republic of Congo (40) and Mozambique (45) are new entries to the top 50.”

Communist China developed new restrictions and surveillance methods — including by installing more than 415 million facial recognition cameras to track people’s whereabouts — in order “to monitor citizens for their own ‘protection’ and ‘security,'” according to Open Doors UK. Considering that for the first time in over a decade, China has made it among the top 20 persecutors — up to #17 from #23 last year — this does not bode well for Christians, who are already “intensely monitored by the state.”

Similarly, in Turkey, which rose to #25 from #36 last year, every citizen’s “religious affiliation is recorded on the electronic chip of identity cards, making it easy to discriminate against Christians.”

A few other quotes of note from the WWL-2021:

  • “More Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country.”
  • “In Egypt, kidnappings and forced marriages of Christian women and girls to their Muslim abductors has reached record levels.”
  • In the “beautiful island nation” of Maldives, which is Islamic, “Christian persecution takes place away from the eyes of international tourists.”
  • “In remote Vietnam, a woman who leaves her tribe’s beliefs to follow Jesus often loses any rights to see her children.”
  • Even in the most moderate Arab nation, “Violent Islamic extremists are active in the border areas in southern Tunisia—they will target any Christian.”

Perhaps the most disturbing trend is that the number of persecuted Christians continues to grow annually. According to the latest statistics, “More than 340 million of our Christian brothers and sisters live in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.” This represents a 31 % increase from 2020, when only “260 million Christians experience[ed] high levels of persecution.” That represented a 6% increase from 2019, when the number was only 245 million Christians. And that represented a 14% increase from 2018, when 215 million was the number.

In short, between just 2018 and 2021, the persecution of Christians has increased by nearly 60%.

How long before this seemingly irreversible trend reaches even those nations currently celebrated for their religious freedom?

Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the GatestoneInstitute, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.