WWL 2023: North Korea back on top of list of most dangerous countries for Christians
There is “extreme persecution” in 10 countries in Africa and the Middle East, says Open Doors. Elsewhere, worrying trends are observed in key geopolitical actors such as India, Saudi Arabia and China.
18 JANUARY 2023 · 12:05 CET
Open Doors presented today its newest World Watch List, a tool produced by the religious freedom advocacy group to point to the countries where Christians suffer most.
After falling to number two in 2022, North Korea is back as the country in the world where the persecution of Christians is fiercest.
Estimates say there are “some 400,000 Christians in North Korea”, which is around 1.5% of the country’s total population of 26 million people.
“If discovered by the authorities, believers are either sent to labour camps as political prisoners where the conditions are atrocious, or killed on the spot”, Open Doors UK and Ireland says on its website.
“Christians have absolutely no freedom. It is almost impossible for believers to gather or meet to worship. Those who dare to meet must do so in utmost secrecy – and at enormous risk. Even owning a Bible is a serious crime and will be severely punished”.
The persecution score of 98/100 for North Korea this year is the “highest a country has ever received in World Watch List research”.
Worsening situation of religious freedom in Africa
The Northeastern region of Africa is where the persecution is strongest. In Somalia (2), Eritrea (4), Sudan (10) and Lybia (5), the lawlessness of failed states with continued fighting between militant groups makes stability almost impossible. In all of them, Christians are a small minority The situation is equally desperate in Yemen (2), a neighbouring Arabic country suffering a humanitarian catastrophe caused by a civil war in which Christians are discriminated against in the distribution of aid.
In Nigeria (6), almost half of its 217 million inhabitants identify as Christians, but Open Doors reports 5,014 murders of Christians in 2022 alone, mostly in the northern region where “although all civilians are subject to threats and violence, Christians are often specifically targeted because of their faith” by jihadist groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Burkina Faso (23), Central African Republic (24), Niger (28) and Mozambique (32), also had “extreme levels” of persecution last year.
Middle East, India and China
Christians continue to be under much pressure in the Middle East. Pakistan (7) and Iran (8) continue to persecute believers in different ways. Kidnapping and forced marriages of Christian girls is reported frequently in Pakistan. In Iran, thousands of Christians continue to suffer under the regime of the ayatollahs gathering in house churches and joining efforts to bring fundamental freedoms to their fellow citizens.
Christians in Asia face anti-conversion laws and pressure from the authorities in several conutries. / Photo: Open Doors UK and Ireland.
India is on place 11, and political trends continue to promote the Hindutva ideology in some places. “Increasing numbers of states are implementing anti-conversion laws, supposedly to stop Hindus being forcibly converted to other religions, but in reality they are often used as an excuse to harass and intimidate Christians who are just doing things like distributing aid or having a private church meeting”.
China, on number 16, is the probably the country with most Christians in the world. The closing of churches and the bans on social media evangelism continue in a context in which the leadership of Xi Jinping has been reinforced in the Communist regime. “Given the surveillance used by the authorities – which is among the most oppressive and sophisticated in the world – Christians have little room for manoeuvre, both online and offline”, says Open Doors.
The news from Latin America are not good either. It is the region where “the sharpest increase in persecution” is seen. Colombia (22), Cuba (27) and Mexico (38) have all risen in the WWL 2023, and Nicaragua (50) is in the top 50 for the first time.
Qatar (where the organisation of the football World Cup forced the Islamic emirate to present a better human rights image) fell 16 places to number 34 (although persecution of Christians is still “very high”). Conversion to Christianity is still not allowed.
Egypt fell 15 places to number 35. The country also organised in 2022 a global event, the COP27 Climate Change conference, which put the focus on the country on a global scale. Saudi Arabia, which will host this year's COP28, is on place 13.
The situation is still very difficult in Afghanistan (9) but it dropped from number 1 in the 2022 World Watch List. The Taliban, in control of the country since international troops abandoned Kabul in 2021, have “turned their attention to consolidating power and have not been explicitly targeting non-Muslims. This means there have been fewer violent incidents against Christians that can be clearly linked to their faith. In this complex situation, persecution is affecting almost everyone in many different ways”.
No European country is listed in the list of 50 published by Open Doors. Religious freedom violations have been reported over the last year in Russia and Belarus (which is at number 76).
Turkey appears on the main list, on place 41 (“high persecution”), up from 42 in 2022. The state under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has expelled dozens of foreign Christian workers in the last years, including pastor Carlos Madrigal, who served in the country 36 years.
Morocco, just opposite from Spain, is on place 29. Despite pro-human rights efforts promoted by faith minorities in the country, sharing the Christian faith is still very difficult.
Also Algeria (19), a key Mediterranean energy partner of European states, is also on the WWL 2023. Many Protestant churches have been closed in recent years under an unfair legal change that punishes religious minorities. The UN Human Rights Council has heard the cause of Christians in the country but fundamental changes have not been implemented by the authorities.
The 2023 World Watch List
This is the full WWL 2023 by Open Doors:
1. North Korea
13. Saudi Arabia
23. Burkina Faso
24. Central African Republic
37. Democratic Republic of the Congo
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