WWL 2024: “Christians are increasingly being denied rights or discriminated against”

Open Doors publishes a new edition of the World Watch List identifying as many as 78 countries with high levels of hostility against Christianity in the world. North Korea and Nigeria stand out among those with “extreme persecution”.

Jonatán Soriano , Evangelical Focus

17 JANUARY 2024 · 12:03 CET

A pastor in Nigeria in front of a destroyed house / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="https://www.opendoors.org/en-US/">Open Doors</a>.,
A pastor in Nigeria in front of a destroyed house / Photo: Open Doors.

The evolution of religious freedom for Christians in the world is marked by a process of deterioration. Open Doors has just published the World Watch List 2024 (WWL), with data relating to the period between January and October 2023.

The newest list shows “persecution that continues to grow” and increasing “hostility” and “discrimination”, which makes it “more difficult for Christians to exercise a belief freely and express what they think”, says Ted Blake, President of Open Doors in Spain, in an interview with news website Protestante Digital.

Blake, who has headed the organisation for the past thirteen years, regrets that “the persecution of Christians has grown in both breadth and depth”.

These are the 10 countries where Christians suffer most because of their faith, according to the 2024 World Watch List:

1. North Korea (96)

2. Somalia (93)

3. Lybia (91)

4. Eritrea (89)

5. Yemen (89)

6. Nigeria (88)

7. Pakistan (87)

8. Sudan (87)

9. Iran (86)

10. Afghanistan (84)

A score of 81 out of 100 ore more indicates "extreme persecution".

WWL 2024: “Christians are increasingly being denied rights or discriminated against”

North Korea continues to top the World Persecution List for yet another edition / Open Doors.


4,998 Christians killed in the first ten months of 2023

This new edition of the WWL shows that there are up to 78 countries with high, very high or extreme levels of persecution. Another highlight is that 4,998 Christians were killed worldwide in the first ten months of 2023, most of them in Nigeria alone (4,565).

But physical violence is the tragic tip of a huge iceberg. According to Open Doors, a total of 365 million Christians suffer some form of hostility, which translates into 1 in 7 people who claim to profess Christian beliefs.

Moreover, in the new edition of the WWL, the organisation speaks of a “disproportionate increase” in attacks on church buildings. More than 14,000 in total. After Covid, many churches have not reopened or have been closed for good. There are two trends, according to Blake: “forced closures, as is the case in China or Algeria, and attacks on buildings, as is the case in India or Nigeria”, he says.


Instability in the Middle East and North Africa

The WWL 2024 map is once again orange and red across North Africa and the Middle East. With Libya in 3rd place on the list, Yemen (5th), Syria (12th) and Saudi Arabia (13th), the area is viewed with great concern.

Open Doors links the increase in persecution to the political instability experienced over the last decade. “The Arab spring ended up becoming a winter”, says Blake. “This has led, as in the case of Libya, to instability in regional governments that has allowed radicals to take control and establish a much more extreme view of Islam than was previously the case”.

In Syria, for example, they point to the earthquake of February 2023, and how it has aggravated the situation of the Christian population, already battered by the civil war.

WWL 2024: “Christians are increasingly being denied rights or discriminated against”

The 2024 World Watch List map. Click here to see the map in detail. / Open Doors International


Sub-Saharan Africa: “Concentration of attacks against Christians”

If there is one region where alarm bells are ringing about the situation of Christians, it is sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, the countries that have seen the greatest exponential increase in the level of persecution are Laos, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The wave of coups d'état that has shaken the region in recent years has aggravated the situation by giving more space to jihadism. However, other factors also play a role. “There is a mix of economics, ethnicity and other interests”, says Blake. But that should not overshadow a clear reality, “which is a concentration of attacks against the Christian population. They are the ones who suffer the most”, he says.

The external influences on Africa continue to increase. China is having a large socio-economic presence and and paramilitary groups such as Wagner, says Open Doors, “act with impunity against Christian principles and the Christian population”.


In Asia, another type of oppression

Although the Asian continent seems to have lost the prominence of other years in this new edition of the World Watch List (WWL), Open Doors insists that this is not due to an improvement in the situation, but to a more rapid devaluation of the state of Christian freedom in other parts of the world.

Nevertheless, Asia remains a dominant profile on the map of the 50 most hostile countries for Christians. For example, North Korea continues to lead the list unquestionably. “Violent activity against Christians has increased because there is an active search for Christians in the country”, explains Ted Blake. “As North Korea does not generate this data, we depend on another source, so we make estimates and keep them to a minimum of what they might actually be”, he adds.

WWL 2024: “Christians are increasingly being denied rights or discriminated against”

Up to 78 countries worldwide record high, very high or extreme levels of persecution, and at least 14,000 church buildings were attacked in the first ten months of 2023. / Open Doors.

Other countries with ‘extreme’ levels of persecution include Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, which this year is holding a general election marked by the victory of the opposition in the state of Karnataka. “Anti-conversion” laws or the “use of the media against the Christian population” have pushed the situation to its limits. “The authorities look the other way or are at times directly involved”.

In this sense, Blake speaks of “oppression” against Christians in Asia, rather than violent persecution. “We see an increase in another type of persecution that has more to do with oppression than violence. Part of that strategy is the monitoring of people’s lives through video surveillance”, he says.


Difficulties for “Christian freedom” in Latin America

Open Doors has once again included four Latin American countries among the 50 most dangerous for Christians in the world. They are Cuba (22nd), Nicaragua (30th), Colombia (34th) and Mexico (37th). The hostility is mainly because “Christians are speaking out against intolerance and injustice carried out by paramilitary or rebel groups exercising control, especially in rural areas”, says Blake. In any case, “they are in circumstances where they can hardly live their lives freely”.

Special mention should be made of Nicaragua as one of the countries where the situation has worsened the most in recent years, especially for Catholics. “In general, the Protestant part of Christianity is the most affected by persecution, although in the case of Nicaragua it is the Catholic Church”, says Blake.


Appeal to Western governments

Turkey is the only European country that appears in the WWL, on place 50, with a score of 64 out of 100 (in the low end of the range of persecution considered "very high").

As usual, Open Doors accompanies its report with a series of recommendations that are usually addressed, in particular, to countries in the part of the map that appears in blank. “They must exert pressure and stand up to the situation”, says Blake, given the reality that there are countries “that recognise the right to religious freedom but then do not apply it”.

Especially, “governments must take action on the issue of defamation of Christians, which leads to violent actions against them”, says Blake.

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