Open Doors USA, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving persecuted Christians, recently released its list of the 50 worst countries on Earth for Christians in 2016. The worst persecution came from two threats: Islamic extremism in Africa and the Middle East, and nationalism in East Asian countries such as North Korea and India.
While Islamic extremism is the dominant driver of persecution, responsible for conflict and oppression in 35 of the 50 countries, ethnic nationalism in Asian countries focuses on persecuting minorities, fueled by religious nationalism and government insecurity. As the report noted, “it is common—and easy—for tottering governments to gain quick support by scapegoating Christians.”
Below is a list of the 15 worst places to be a Christian, from the least oppressive to the most.
Since May 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has governed India, imposing a version of radical Hinduism more extreme than previously. Christians in this East Asian country are regularly attacked for their faith, with ever increasing levels of impunity. There are an estimated 63.9 million Christians in this country of 1.3 billion people, a tiny 4.76 percent of the population.
Converts from Hinduism to Christianity face the brunt of persecution, according to Open Doors. They are constantly pressured to return to their old beliefs, and often physically assaulted and even killed. After converts, Protestant communities face intense persecution, due to their emphasis on conversions.
14. Saudi Arabia.
Islamic oppression rules in the monarchy of Saudi Arabia — it is, after all, the seat of the two most important Islamic cities, Mecca and Medina. Citizens are expected to be Muslims, but many have secretly converted to Christianity. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world without any church buildings, because both public and private life are defined by Islam. Nevertheless, Open Doors estimated that there are 1.4 million Christians in a population of 32.7 million, 4.2 percent of the population.
Migrant Christians from low-income countries suffer the worst, as they are attacked for their ethnicity and economic status as well. Nevertheless, all converts to Christianity in Saudi Arabia risk fierce persecution from family, society, and government.
Interestingly, the Maldives, world famous as a vacation destination, is also notorious for the persecution of Christians. A strict form of Islam dominates the country both politically and culturally, and freedom of religion is highly restricted. The “protection of religion” in the country’s constitution is purely understood to mean the protection of Islam, and every Maldivian must be Muslim. There are merely a few thousand Christians in this country of 376,000 people.
Christians from other countries are closely monitored and have meeting restrictions, while converts from Islam bear the worst persecution. These converts are not officially recognized as existing and are cut off from any contact with expatriate churches.
This North African country is divided between Christian majorities in the south and Muslim majorities in the north. Twelve Nigerian states have instituted sharia (Islamic law). While President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been in power since 2015, led a war against the terrorist group Boko Haram in the north, the government seems reluctant to respond to the continuing violence against Christians in the Middle Belt region.
There are 95.9 million Christians in this country of 191.8 million people, about half of the population. Two types of persecution exist in Nigeria: official oppression under sharia and violent attacks at the hands of Boko Haram and Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen in the Middle Belt region.
This North African country, immortalized in the minds of conservatives by the name of a city inside it — Benghazi — is still mired in conflict and chaos following the toppling of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi in 2011. Since then, various militant groups have taken control of different parts of the country. There are only 20,000 Christians in this country of 6.4 million, a minuscule 0.3 percent of the population.
Islamic militias fuel persecution through violence, both of local converts to Christianity and Christians from other countries. Many extremists perpetrate violent attacks against Christians with impunity.
Like Nigeria, the North African country of Eritrea is approximately half Christian (2.7 million out of 5.4 million). There are three forms of persecution in the country: Islamic oppression, dictatorial paranoia, and denominational protectionism. Eritrea is a one-party state ruled by President Isaias Afwerki that does not allow any form of association, dissent, and free expression.
The government tries to control all religious institutions. The Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC) is the official Christian denomination, and it persecutes those who leave that denomination for evangelical or Pentecostal forms of Christianity. Even the EOC is not safe, as the patriarch was deposed and replaced by the government in 2007.
Eritrea is contributing to the global refugee crisis, with thousands fleeing the country. The government has arrested and imprisoned Christians, who have been tortured and even locked in shipping containers until they died.
— Cristian Ionita (@EdmapsCom) March 2, 2016
This Middle Eastern country in the Arabian Peninsula is currently ravaged by a devastating civil war between Houthi rebels, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Islamic State (ISIS), and the government. Most communities of expatriate or migrant Christians have left the country, leaving only Christian converts from Islam. Given this situation, it might not be surprising that there are only a few thousand Christians in this country of 28.1 million.
Reports show more Muslims are turning to Christ in this war-torn country than ever before. AQAP and ISIS often target Christians for persecution. The country also faces a dire humanitarian crisis, where approximately 80 percent of the population needs food, shelter, or other necessities.
In this Middle Eastern country, Islam and nationalism team up to persecute Christians, who form approximately one percent of the population (800,000 in 80.9 million). Christianity is considered a Western influence and a threat to the Islamic identity of the republic.
Converts from Islam make up the bulk of Christians in Iran, but many Protestant communities who evangelize Muslims are also persecuted. Christians from foreign countries occasionally experience forced church closures, while historical communities of Armenian and Assyrian Christians are protected by law but treated as second-class citizens under sharia. Christians trying to spread their faith are arrested and violently attacked
After two millennia of worship in Iraq, Christians are near extinction. Many fled areas controlled by ISIS, but attacks from Islamic extremists are still carried out with impunity and Christians are often treated like second-class citizens. Converts from Islam suffer severely, especially at the hands of angry family.
There are still an estimated 230,000 Christians remaining, in Iraq’s population of 38.6 million. This makes them 0.59 percent of the population in a war-torn region with many extremists bent on killing or subjugating them, often brutally.
Like Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, this Middle Eastern country is torn apart by a civil war. ISIS and other Islamic militants heavily persecute Christians, even as many Christians flee the areas those militants control. The Syrian opposition is reportedly becoming “Islamized” and the civil war has arguably morphed into a form of jihad against the Syrian government.
The remaining Christians live in strategic regions, thus making them more vulnerable for attack. They are also suspected of supporting the government. Many churches lie in ruins, yet many Christians deliberately decide to stay and present the gospel in their war-torn land. There are approximately 794,000 Christians in this country of 18.9 million, making up 4.2 percent of the population.
Islam is deeply embedded in Sudan’s society and the government is strictly implementing a one-religion, one-culture, and one-language policy under President Omar al-Bashir. There is no true rule of law in the country, and freedom of expression has been almost completely curtailed. This country has been on the World Watch List since 1993 and has almost always been ranked in the worst 20 countries for Christians across the world.
Christians are only 4.7 percent of the population of Sudan (2 million in a country of 42.2 million). The ethnic-cultural landscape is divisive: Arabs versus ethnic Africans, Muslims versus Christians. Arrests, attacks, and murders plague Christian communities in the country, especially those living in the Nubia mountain region.
Pakistan has always been a Muslim country, but they have accepted historical Christian communities. These communities do have to put up with stringent rules and constant monitoring, while Christian converts from Islam suffer persecution from radical Islamic groups and families and neighbors. Protestant Christian communities are under close scrutiny and suffer frequent attacks, especially when they try to preach the gospel to Muslims.
Christians make up a tiny 2 percent of the population (3.9 million in a country of 196.7 million). Violent persecution is common, and Christians are targeted for murder, bombings, abduction of women, rape, forced marriages, and eviction from home and country. Unjust and arbitrary blasphemy laws were also used to punish Christians and prevent evangelism.
As in many other Middle Eastern countries, Islamic oppression exerts severe pressure on believers, from families, friends, communities, and local religious leaders. The state is weak, but Islam is viewed as a unifying factor — especially as society agrees that conversion away from Islam cannot be tolerated. There are only thousands of Christians in this country of 34 million.
Many Christian converts from Islam are murdered by their own extended families, or delivered to mental hospitals under the premise that no one in their right mind would choose to leave Islam. Converts usually lose their rights to personal property and possessions — becoming destitute. Some lose their property merely upon suspicion of conversion, a fear tactic which leads many family members to react even more harshly in opposing even the slightest interest in Christianity.
The second worst country in the world for Christians to live is Somalia, a country in the horn of Africa which was heavily Islamized before the modern arrival of Christianity. This country has a tribal system — an informal way of governing — and it is very resistant to modern government models. Christians have no voice in the society.
Since 1991, Somalia has been a safe haven for Islamic militants. Christian converts from Islam have been facing a great deal of persecution, and martyrdom is very common. The mere suspicion that someone has renounced Islam leads to a rushed public execution. There are a mere hundreds of Christians in this country of 11.4 million, and they live in fear. Martyrdom is commonplace.
1. North Korea.
For the sixteenth year in a row, this small East Asian tyranny is the most oppressive place in the world for Christians. In this totalitarian communist state, Christians are forced to hide their faith completely from government authorities, neighbors, and even their own spouses and children. Due to ever-present government surveillance, many pray with their eyes open, and gathering for praise or fellowship is practically impossible.
There are an estimated 300,000 Christians in the country of 25.4 million (1.2 percent). Worship of the Kim ruling family is mandated for all citizens, and any who do not comply (including Christians) are arrested, imprisoned, tortured, or killed. Entire Christian families are imprisoned in hard labor camps, where unknown numbers die each year from torture, beatings, overexertion, and starvation.