2019 World Watch List: 1 in 9 Christians Persecuted For Their Faith

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By Beth Ross, Emma Rogers | 16 January 2019

The 2019 World Watch List has been released. It shows that persecution is increasing around the world, and the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians.

“The World Watch List shows that where the gospel is being shared, persecution exists. The reason these 50 countries remain on the World Watch List is because Christians there choose to keep professing their faith in Jesus.”  Mike Gore, CEO Open Doors Australia

Here are the trends in Christian persecution for 2019.

1 In 9 Christians Are Persecuted For Their Faith

Of the 150 countries surveyed in the 2019 World Watch List, 73 countries showed extreme, very high or high levels of persecution.

That means 1 in 9 Christians globally experience ‘high’ levels of persecution. In 2018, it was the equivalent of 1 in 12.

Across Asia and the Middle East, 1 in 3 Christians experience ‘high’ levels of persecution, while across Africa, it’s 1 in 6, and in Latin America, 1 in 21.

North Korea Remains Number One

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North Korea has remained number one since 2002. Even after the Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un summit in June 2018, experts say there is no sign of any improvement in the lives of the estimated 200,000-400,000 Christians in North Korea.

Around 50,000–70,000 Christians are believed to be in labour camps.

Nigeria Most Christian Deaths

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Image: Christians leaving a church service in central Nigeria.

In the north and Middle Belt (middle region) of Nigeria, 3,731 Christians were killed for their faith. That’s almost double the number of Christians killed in Nigeria from the 2018 World Watch List. Villages were completely abandoned by Christians, forced to flee from the violence, as armed attackers moved in and settled. Persecution comes mainly from the nomadic, Muslim-majority Fulani Herdsmen, and the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

Of the 4,136 recorded deaths of Christians directly resulting from persecution reported in the 2019 World Watch List, Nigeria alone accounts for about 90% (3,731).

Russia Enters The Top 50

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During the past few years in Russia, the state developed tighter laws regulating religious activity, partly in response to the threat of violence caused by Islamic extremism.

Islamic extremist groups in the Caucasus region (near Central Asia) and the republics of Dagestan and Chechnya have increased their violent activity.

During the World Watch List 2019 reporting period, at least five Christians were killed in church attacks. In Muslim-majority areas, non-Orthodox Christians are also often targeted if suspected to be evangelising.

Persecution Increases In China

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New religious laws in China seek to control all expressions of faith. In China, the situation is the worst it's been in more than a decade; some even say since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976.

On the 2019 World Watch List China rose from rank 43 to 27. Many churches have been forced to close down, crosses have been removed from a number of buildings and some believers have been sent to ‘re-education camps’.

Algeria Rose 20 Ranks

Algeria 2016 0060100064 blog

Despite an increase in persecution seeing Algeria rise from rank 42 to 22, the church in Algeria is growing. Their increased boldness to share the gospel has brought a backlash from friends and society.

Islamic Extremism Increases In Indonesia

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There has also been an increase in Islamic extremism in Indonesian society with suicide bombers attacking three churches in one day in the city of Surabaya.

High-profile Christian and former Jakarta Governor ‘Ahok’ was sentenced to two years in prison for a false charge of blasphemy. He is due to be freed in January 2019.

Iraq Drops Five Places

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Iraq fell to rank 13 on the 2019 World Watch List. With the territorial defeat of Islamic State, thousands of Christians, amongst others, returned to rebuild and resettle, especially in the Nineveh region.

As a minority, Christians continue to face harassment, discrimination, and often physical and emotional abuse.

Freedom Shrinking In India

India 2017 0430107032 blog

The Nationalistic government in India continues to deny freedom of religion to their sizeable Christian minority, sending the very clear message that to be Indian means one must be Hindu.

The leader of a radical Hindu group in India has declared that by the end of 2021, he wants to remove Christianity from India. There are anti-conversion laws in eight states out of 29.

Persecution Increases In Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar 2017 0430107639 blog
Image: Girls riding to school.

Ranked 24 on last year’s World Watch List, Myanmar has risen six places to rank 18.

In northern Myanmar around 1.6 million Christians are being targeted in what has been called a ‘forgotten war’. In the states of Karen, China and Kachin, the military has burned over 400 villages and 300 churches, leaving at least 150,000 Christians displaced since 2011.

Gender-Specific Persecution

In the top five most dangerous countries to live as a Christian, the female experience of persecution is characterised by sexual violence and forced marriage whereas Christian men are more likely to be detained without trial or killed by the authorities or extremists.

The 2019 World Watch List shows that the persecution of men is more, “focused, severe and visible” and that persecution experienced by women is “complex, violent and hidden”.

245 Million

The World Watch List represents 245 million Christians who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus. Please continue to pray for the global church. You can sign up here to stay up to date with the latest news and stories, and give to the work of Open Doors here.


2019 World Watch List

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