2016 World Watch List: Jihadism propels dramatic rise in persecution

North Korea is still the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian, according to new report by Open Doors. Jihadism, Hindu and Buddhist extremism are the greatest sources of persecution.

Evangelical Focus

Open Doors · LONDON · 13 JANUARY 2016 · 12:37 CET

The WWL 2016 lists the countries in which it is most difficult to be a Christian. / Open Doors,jihadism, open doors, persecution
The WWL 2016 lists the countries in which it is most difficult to be a Christian. / Open Doors

“Global persecution of Christians is more extreme than ever before”, Open Doors said after releasing the 2016 World Watch List. North Korea is still the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian.

Religious extremism – Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist – is the main source of persecution of Christians.

“Worldwide there were well over 7,000 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the reporting period”, the agency explained. “That is a rise of almost 3,000 in comparison to conservative figures from the WWL 2015 period.” This is excluding North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist.

In addition, “around 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged, which is over double the number for the previous year.”

“Persecution levels have been rapidly rising. This year, a country had to score 50 per cent more points than in 2013 to even make it onto the list,” said Open Doors CEO Lisa Pearce after releasing the new list on January 13, 2106.

The level of persecution increased even in countries that dropped out of the top 50. “This is a cause of great concern.”

Ted Blake (Director of Open Doors Spain) analyses the 2016 WWL in this interview.


LIST OF 2016

In North Korea (1) there are estimated 70,000 Christians imprisoned in labour camps. Others who worship in secret risk death if they are discovered.

Iraq (2) has replaced Somalia (7) as the second most dangerous place to be a Christian.

Eritrea, now nicknamed the ‘North Korea of Africa' due to high levels of dictatorial paranoia, follows at number 3. Afghanistan (4), Syria (5) and Pakistan (6) are next.

The top 20 countries in the 2016 World Watch List are:

1. North Korea

2. Iraq

3. Eritrea

4. Afghanistan

5. Syria

6. Pakistan

7. Somalia

8. Sudan

9. Iran

10. Libya

11. Yemen

12. Nigeria

13. Maldives

14. Saudi Arabia

15. Uzbekistan

16. Kenia

17. India

18. Ethiopia

19. Turkmenistan

20. Vietnam


According to Open Doors, the violence of Daesh’s (IS) is radicalising Muslims and therefore increasing pressure on Christians in many countries. The state is still a major source of persecution; but increasingly extremism is a cross-border phenomenon.

Persecution has seen the biggest rises in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Eritrea. The number of refugees from Afghanistan and Eritrea has increased significantly.

Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system, and while the lowest ranking country in 2013 had 35 points, this year's lowest ranking country had 53 points - an increase of more than 50 per cent.



Emerging superpower India (17), the second most populous country in the world, has seen persecution levels rise dramatically for the third year running, taking it up to number 17 from a ranking of 31 in 2013.

“Analysis by Open Doors researchers found that the religious freedom of over 200 million people is severely threatened by a new wave of Hindu nationalist electoral successes that have seen the introduction of drastic anti-conversion laws.”

Pastors have been beaten and killed, and members of their congregations forced to convert to Hinduism in an increasing number of attacks across the country. On average a church is burned down or a pastor beaten three times a week.”



“Religious fundamentalism has fuelled a rise in persecution in 80 per cent of the countries on the list”, Open Doors reports.

In North Korea and Turkmenistan (19) the population are required to revere their leader. Persecution in countries like Colombia (46) is driven by fundamentalist approaches of Animists and people following tribal religions.



Islamic fundamentalism is most extreme and is rising most sharply in sub-Saharan Africa. More people are killed for their Christian faith here than anywhere else in the world. As fundamentalism in the form of radical Islam spreads across Africa westwards from Somalia, almost every country from Kenya upwards is affected, with only a few exceptions around the Gulf of Guinea. Eritrea (3), Kenya (16) and Ethiopia (18) have all seen sharp rises in persecution levels.

Kenya rose again in the rankings from 19 in 2015 to 16 in 2016 after seeing its worst terrorism in 15 years at Garissa College, near the Somali border. Some 700 students were held by extremists in April 2015 and 147 Christians were slaughtered after being separated out from their fellow Muslim students.

Boko Haram has dominated the headlines with over 2,500 killings in Nigeria (12) this year. An estimated 2.1 million people are internally displaced in Nigeria alone3, driven out by Boko Haram.

Less reported violence against Christian farmers by Hausa Fulani tribesmen has also been extreme with conservative estimates putting it at more than 1,500 killings. Both factions are carrying out religious cleansing, aiming to eradicate Christianity.



“The Middle East is a hotbed of Islamic extremism forcing millions to flee their homes after violent killings, hostage-taking and extreme violence against women and children”, Open Doors says.

Syria and Iraq dominate the headlines with Libya moving up sharply. Syria is the largest displacement crisis globally. Aleppo was home to 400,000 Christians at the start of the civil war - now Open Doors estimates that less than 60,000 remain with families leaving every day.



The Open Doors 2016 World Watch List detailing the 50 countries with the worst persecution record will be discussed at the United Kingdom House of Commons this afternoon at a cross-party launch. Over 100 MPs have said that they will be attending.

Ted Blake, Director of Open Doors Spain, comments the WWL 2016 in this interview.

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