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10 Countries where faith persists despite persecution

Nigerian man prays, hands, rosary

Red Confidential | Shutterstock

Anne-Sophie Retailleau - published on 12/03/23

An annual report of the top 10 countries where Christians suffer severe persecution just came out. In some of them, however, Christianity is on the rise.

It’s a report to “bring light to the darkness.” International Christian Concern (ICC), an American ecumenical NGO, has just published its annual list of the “World’s Worst Persecutors”of Christians. In many countries, the year 2023 was marked by dramatic events involving Christians who were persecuted, imprisoned, kidnapped, or murdered.

The NGO has singled out 10 such countries where the Christian faith is severely oppressed. And yet, the report announces signs of hope. Despite persecution, the Christian faith is progressing in some of these countries, such as China, Iran, and Nigeria.

1
NIGERIA

In Africa, Nigeria is being hard hit by one of the most serious scourges that Christians suffer daily. Armed gangs such as Boko Haram and rebels kidnap and massacre hundreds of Christian men, women and children, particularly in the north of the country.

Mass burial of Fulani victims
Mass burial of Fulani victims

Religious and priests risk their lives on a daily basis and are particularly targeted by kidnappings and murders. On September 7, 2023, a seminarian was burned to death after Fulani herdsmen attacked his parish house in Kaduna state. In 17 years, from 2006 to 2023, more than 50 priests were abducted, and 17 killed, according to the Nigerian Episcopal Conference in September.

2
NORTH KOREA

Under Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship, the practice of Christianity is forbidden in North Korea. Christians — who according to the report number between 200,000 and 400,000 out of a population of 25.8 million — have to live out their faith in hiding. In 2022, the regime added to its “anti-reactionary” law an amendment criminalizing the practice of the Christian religion and the possession of devotional objects.

KIM DZONG UN ZAPROSIŁ PAPIEŻA FRANCISZKA
Kim Jong Un

In May 2023, a couple and their 2-year-old child were sentenced to life imprisonment after a Bible was found in the family home. ICC reports that Christians are regularly imprisoned, tortured in detention camps, and executed.

3
INDIA

India’s Christian community numbers around 26 million, or 2.5% of the Indian population. Like Muslims, Christians are the target of persecution by the Hindu nationalists currently in power. In recent years, anti-Christian uprisings and violence have multiplied.

The Christian community in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur was particularly hard hit in 2023 by attacks from Hindu nationalists, resulting in the deaths of dozens of Christians. In addition to physical violence, Christians may be forced to convert, or may suffer false allegations of blasphemy, which is severely punished in India.

4
IRAN

The authoritarian regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran is not known for its benevolence towards Christian communities. In this predominantly Shiite Islam country, Christians number between 500,000 and 800,000, or 1% of the population. Many of these Christians supported the protest movement against Hassan Rohani’s regime after the death of the young Mahsa Amini in 2022.

In theory, the practice of the Christian faith is not forbidden. It is, however, a façade of freedom, as Monsignor Pascal Gollnisch, director of Oeuvre d’Orient, explained in an interview with the French edition of Aleteia in 2019. In Iran, Muslims face criminal sanctions if they convert to Christianity. Similarly, mixed marriages are prohibited. However, the report states that the Church in Iran is growing rapidly.

5
CHINA

In China, the atheistic Communist regime is hostile to the Christian faith. Yet 70 million to 100 million Christians live their faith more or less clandestinely. The ICC report even states that Christianity is making “rapid progress.” The faith and courage of these converts inspire admiration.

MESSE-CHINE-GODONG-CN278233A
Prayer time at St. Joseph’s Church in Beijing.

Camera surveillance of churches, arrests, imprisonment, censorship … The dictatorship controls and represses those who speak openly of their Christian faith, even if a dialogue between the Church and the regime has gradually been established in recent years.

6
PAKISTAN

Pakistan is one of the states where the situation of Christians is most dramatic. Islamic fundamentalism is deeply rooted in its institutions and society, and Christians risk their lives to follow Christ.

068_AA_26032014_48.jpg
Pakistani Christian hold cross during the protest against the demolition of Christian streets in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 26, 2014.

The anti-blasphemy law, used as a tool of oppression against the Christian community, allows the authorities to arrest, sentence to death, and execute believers on the basis of mere allegations, which are often false. They are also often the target of violence and destruction by rioting mobs, as in Faisalabad (in the east of the country) and Jaranwala on August 16, 2023.

7
ERITREA

According to the ICC report, Eritrea is the most repressive state in Africa, where Christians are among “the most persecuted in the world.” It should be noted that they are the majority in a population made up of 63% Christians and 37% Muslims.

Despite its constitutional recognition of religious freedom, the state has taken an authoritarian stance in recent years. Christians are frequently arrested in raids organized by the authorities, who see certain churches not recognized by the state as a threat. In April 2023, around a hundred Christian students gathered to pray and take videos on social networks were arrested and imprisoned in a center renowned for its inhumane detention conditions.

8
ALGERIA

The repression of religious freedoms in Algeria receives little media coverage or public attention. But it does exist, as the ICC reminds us by including it in its ranking. Christians number between 20,000 and 200,000, including just 5,000 Catholics.

The Algerian state has anti-blasphemy legislation, which makes it possible to arrest and prosecute a non-Muslim accused of proselytizing. In 2019, the authorities decided to close places of worship due to the COVID-19 crisis. But in 2021, when mosques were allowed to reopen, the state refused to do the same for churches, particularly those affiliated to the Protestant Church of Algeria. Most are still closed to this day.

9
Indonesia

Christians in Indonesia account for almost 10% of the population, in a state where Muslims are in the majority. Tensions are high between Muslims and Christian communities, who suffer bullying and violence. There are also anti-blasphemy laws, and the authorities regularly restrict access to Christian places of worship. At Christmas 2022, the Indonesian government forbade many Christians to attend Mass outside places of worship, which were far too few to accommodate all the faithful.

10
AZERBAIJAN

Arméniens Haut Karabagh exil
Inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh flee the enclave invaded by Azerbaijan, while the roads are blocked by traffic jams, September 26, 2023.

Until the end of September 2023, some 120,000 Armenian Christians lived in the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Recognized by international law as part of Azerbaijani territory, its inhabitants have claimed the right to form their own state since the end of the Soviet era.

After a bloody war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, the noose gradually tightened around the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. On September 19, 2023, after the population had been subjected to a harsh blockade since the end of 2022, Azerbaijan finally launched the final offensive, forcing the enclave’s entire population to leave their homeland.

In the space of a week, some 120,000 people left Nagorno-Karabakh to seek refuge in Armenia. President Aliev, who had already promised to “hunt [the Armenians] like dogs” at the end of the 2020 war, is being criticized by part of the international community for having organized the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the destruction of the region’s Christian heritage.

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ChurchPersecution of Christians
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