WWL 2017: Persecution on the rise in India and Southeast Asia

According to Open Doors, 215 million Christians suffer “high, very high or extreme persecution”. North Korea continues at the top of the World Watch List. Africa is the region in which more Christians are killed because of their faith.

Evangelical Focus

Protestante Digital, Open Doors · 11 JANUARY 2017 · 12:20 CET

A Christian woman in India expresses her grief after the church building of her community was destroyed by radicals. / Open Doors,
A Christian woman in India expresses her grief after the church building of her community was destroyed by radicals. / Open Doors

Open Doors has published its latest World Watch List (WWL). This year's edition shows the difficult situation of Christians in Southeast Asia.

Five of the six countries where persecution has increased more belong to this overcrowded area of the world, maninly because of the rise of religious nationalism.

The list ranks the 50 toughest states for Christians to live. It is based on detailed reports that consider aspects such as violence, restriction of freedoms or government pressure.

North Korea, once again, is at the top of the list, although the levels of persecution in Somalia - in second place - have increased to the point of being near to top the list.

According to Open Doors, 2016 has been a year in which the Christians who suffer persecution reached 215 million.



Of the six countries whose persecution rate has grown most sharply in the past year, five are in south and South-East Asia: India, Bangladesh, Laos, Bhutan and Vietnam.

“A stand-out trend is that religious nationalism is driving the Asian countries up the list”, said Dr. Ron Boyd-MacMillan, Director for Strategic Research at Open Doors.

“It’s a long-term trend, it’s been gathering pace since the 1990s when nobody bothered to notice it. But this year, I think it’s really come into its own”,  Boyd-MacMillan, added.


Evangelical Christians demonstrate in India for religious freedom. / Evangelical Fellowship of India

This trend "is most visible in India; India is at its highest position on the World Watch List ever. The Hindu extremists are really in power, and a mob can do what they like in India, and it’s a large Church so there are a lot of incidents."

Since the BJP nationalist party won the national elections in 2014, the anti-Christian violence has increased in the north of the country, where it is estimated that 40 million Christians live, suffering the oppressive discrimination and destructive violence of the Hindu extremists.

Officially, India is a secular country, but the BJP and President Modi have imposed their vision of economic revival and Indian purity, a vision that has filled the void left by the corrupt and ineffective government of the Indian National Congress party.



Two American countries return to the list: Mexico and Colombia.

Mexico ranks 41, descending one place. Evangelical Focus informed about the persecution suffered mainly by indigenous evangelical communities in the southern part of the country, where traditionalist Catholic groups restrict the religious freedom and coerce entire families.

The violence related to drug trafficking in some areas of the country also affects Christians who denounce or oppose these practices.

Meanwhile, Colombia closes the list, mainly due to the persecution that still exists in the areas of conflict between the government, the FARC and the ELN. The development of peace agreements in the coming months, could positively influence a better implementation of the monitoring and protection of Christians in the area.



Click on the image above to see and dowload the full-size map.

North Korea is at the top of the list sixteenth year in a row. Although it is not the most violent country on the list, Open Doors believes that Pyongyang's dictatorial regime has unprecedented levels of hostility to religion.

All believers are clandestine and most of them do not have comunication between each other. If the authorities discover that they are Christians, the punishment could be a life of forced labor and their death or the death of their families.



There is only one new country within the "Top 10" of the 2017 World Watch List: Yemen, it ranks ranks 9th (11th in 2016).

Yemen is suffering the violence of the Shiite Huthi rebels since they attacked the capital in 2014, triggering a multinational bombing campaign led by the Wahhabi government of Saudi Arabia and turning Yemen into a war between Saudi and Iranian interests.

"Local Christians, many of them former Muslims, are trapped in the midst of this", Boyd-MacMillan points out. "Conversion to another religion can be punished by death. Christians have been actively controlled and killed by Sunni Muslim militias. The war has caused a great change and increased persecution, and now the perpetrators are mostly Islamic extremists", he continues.

“The Shiites of the Huthi clan are also very intolerant if the religious identity of local Christians is discovered . So Christians, if their faith is exposed, in this country, suffer the persecution from many different groups, including Daesh and Al-Qaeda."



Islamic extremism continues to be the most common cause of pressure against Christians and it is rising most sharply in Africa, where more people are killed for their Christian faith than anywhere else in the world.

The deliberate sabotage of homes, churches and villages by extremists aiming to eradicate Christianity from a particular area, has become an increasingly common form of religious persecution.

Homes are ransacked, churches destroyed and village water sources poisoned in many African countries.



The "Top 10" also highlights the case of Somalia, which has gone from 4th to 2nd place, and in the score of 100 is only one point less than North Korea.

Although there are only a few hundred Christians among the 10 million Somali inhabitants in the whole country, the strongly marked tribal character of Somali society means that any Muslim who converts to Christianity is instantly detected and can be killed.

Somalia is one of the two countries that, besides North Korea, have been ranked No. 1 in the WWL, since it began to be developed 25 years ago.



For the first time in many years, the estimated number of persecuted Christians in the world, which up to now were 100 million people, has changed.

The World Watch Unit has established that, in total, 215 million people in the world suffer "high, very high or extreme" persecution because of their Christian faith.

This is one of every twelve Christians in the world.

In the 50 countries of the World Watch List, there are a total of 4,830 million people and the approximate number of Christians in these countries is 650 million (13%).

In 21 of the 50 countries listed, persecution is suffered by al of the Christians living in the country.


Open Doors is an organisation that has worked on behalf of Christians persecuted for their faith in Christ for more than 60 years. It was founded by "Brother Andrew", a Dutch missionary who started carrying illegal Bibles for Christians in the countries under the USSR steel curtain.

Nowadays, Open Doors supports persecuted Christians in dozens of countries and has development offices in more than 20 countries. The 2017 World Watch List considers the persecution analyzed in the 12-month period between October 31, 2015 and October 31, 2016.

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