Persecution of Christians around the world increased during the Kovid pandemic, with many followers being denied help in many countries, authoritarian governments stepping up surveillance and Islamic militants exploiting the crisis, the report said.
More than 340 million Christians – one in eight – face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, according to the 2021
It says the number of Christians killed for their faith has risen by 60 percent in the previous year. More than nine out of 10 of the world’s 4,761 deaths are in Africa.
“The growing persecution of Christians around the world should worry us,” said David Landrum, head of advocacy for Open Doors UK and Ireland. “Freedom of religion is at the heart of many other human rights and civil liberties. Repressive governments know this, and they are taking advantage of the pandemic crisis to turn the screw on Christians. “
The World Watch List ranks 50 countries where Christians face persecution and discrimination, with North Korea in first place, as it has been for the past 20 years.
China is back in the top 20 for the first time in a decade, and India and Turkey have also announced an increase in government authoritarianism and nationalism.
The report says Christians in many countries in Africa and Asia have been denied Covid-related assistance – sometimes by government officials, but more often by village leaders or committees. In Kaduna, Nigeria, families from several villages reported receiving one-sixth of the rations distributed to Muslim families.
In China, the government has stepped up surveillance, with face recognition systems installed in some areas in state-approved churches and online services being monitored. The government’s campaign to “blueize” Christianity means that crosses and other Christian images have been replaced with photos of President Xi Jinping and national flags and communist officials electing church leaders, the report said.
In India, the Hindu nationalist government promotes a climate in which attacks and harassment of Christians and Muslims increase. Foreign funding of Christian-run hospitals, schools and church organizations has been blocked.
In sub-Saharan Africa, Christians are facing 30 percent higher levels of violence than last year at the hands of Islamist groups that have benefited from the blockade and governments weakened by the crisis, the report said. In Nigeria, the number of Christians killed has tripled to almost 3,800 registered deaths.
Among the positive developments were Sudan’s new constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion and no longer defines Islam as the state religion; and in northern Iraq, Muslim volunteers are repairing destroyed churches and homes to encourage Christians to return to the area.
Open Doors has published its World Watch List every year since 2002. It provides results to countries based on levels of violence, as well as persecution in private, family, community, civic and church life.