[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The charity Open Doors, which has been supporting the persecuted church since it was founded by Brother Andrews 50 years ago, has published its annual World Watch list of the top 50 most dangerous countries to be a Christian. It is, once again, topped by North Korea. Their research shows that persecution against Christians has increased so dramatically that persecution has risen even in those countries that have dropped out of its top 50.
Open Doors rates the level of persecution as “extreme” in nine countries. For the 14th year in a row, North Korea is top of the list. It is followed by Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.
In a further 16 countries, including Libya, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Ethiopia, Myanmar and the Palestinian Territories, persecution of Christians is rated as “very high”; while 25 countries have a “high” rating, including the Central African Republic, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Mexico.
“Measuring the scale and severity of persecution is a complex task,” Open Doors say. “It is not always clear if and to what extent pressure felt by Christians, or even violence against them, is directly related to them being Christian.
“Sometimes, just living in a chaotic world creates substantial amounts of suffering for Christians and others alike. Open Doors understands persecution as ‘any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians.’”
Open Doors has been monitoring the persecution of Christians since the 1970s and over the years has refined the World Watch List methodology to provide “ever more credibility, transparency, objectivity and scientific quality,” the charity says.
The 2016 figures cover a reporting period from 1 November 2014 to 31 October 2015 using methods and results that have been audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom.
Open Doors say that “persecution of Christians is more than just physical violence. It is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that involves many aspects such as various forms of cultural marginalisation, government discrimination, hindrances on conversion, interferences on participation in public affairs and restrictions on church life.”
The charity observes what it calls the “two main expressions of persecution” – squeeze and smash. It refers to “the suffocating pressure Christians experience in all areas of life” as “squeeze” and “plan violence” as “smash”.
“Smash can be tracked through incidents of violence or aggression, such as rapes, kidnappings, forcible evictions, killings and church burnings,” Open Doors say. “Violence is not the only aspect of persecution, but it is perhaps its sharpest edge and often more readily visible to the outside world.
“The highest levels of violence directed against Christians” in the 2016 World Watch List “were in Nigeria, Central African Republic, Kenya, Libya, Pakistan and Syria.
“Squeeze needs to be tracked by discerning how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed, in five distinct areas – private life, family life, community life, national life and church life. The countries that show where this squeeze was most intensive were: Somalia, North Korea, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Maldives, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria.
“While it would seem that smash is the most prevalent and invasive expression of persecution, it is often the squeeze that is most prevalent and invasive.”