One in Seven Christians Worldwide Faces Persecution

January 21, 2023
Pyongyang Cathedral in North Korea. It has no clergy.

There are over 360 million Christians worldwide (1 in 7) “who experience at least a high level of persecution and discrimination in their own country because of their faith. Asia and the Middle East, together with Africa, are at the top of this sad ranking.”

That is what emerges from the 2003 annual report of the NGO Open Doors which examines the violations of religious freedom recorded in the world between October 1, 2021 and September 30, 2022.

The report ranks the countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. During the period under review, 5,621 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons worldwide (15 per day), 4,542 Christians were arrested, 5,259 kidnapped, and 2,110 churches and buildings attacked.

North Korea is the country where the situation is most serious, with the highest level of persecution in the past 30 years. The entry into force of the Law Against Reactionary Thought has led to an increase in the arrests of Christians and the discovery and subsequent closure of a large number of hidden churches.

This law makes it a crime to publish any material of foreign origin in the country and is also used to justify the search and confiscation of Bibles or any other Christian material, whether printed or electronic. Being arrested means risking execution or detention in political prison camps, where prisoners risk starvation and suffer all kinds of torture and abuse, including sexual abuse.

The text quotes the testimony of Timothy Cho, a North Korean refugee who fled the country: “Christians have always been the focus of the regime's attacks. The goal is to wipe out every Christian from the country. Only one god is allowed in North Korea: the Kim family.”

Among the top ten countries in the world where it is most dangerous to be a Christian – looking at Asia and the Middle East – are Yemen in third place, Pakistan in seventh, Iran in eighth, and Afghanistan in ninth.

With regard to the latter country – paradoxically – the parameters on the basis of which Open Doors establishes its ranking, also linked to the number of recorded cases of violence, show an improvement that is, however, only apparent: it is mainly due to the fact that the Taliban declare that the presence of Christians has been totally eradicated and the few remaining ones live in hading.

India, which ranks 11th in the ranking, is nevertheless among the countries where the persecution is described as “extreme.” During the reporting period, New Delhi recorded the record number of detentions of Christians without trial for reasons related to their faith (1,750).

As for China, ranked 16th, the report notes that, worryingly, it is also becoming a “model” for many other countries to redefine human rights standards downwards. Those who refuse to support the ruling party can be branded as “troublemakers,” “disturbers of the peace,” or even “terrorists.”

Finally, the report highlights the growing persecution dynamics in Myanmar, in terms of the number of people forced to leave their homes or hide or flee the country (more than 100,000), the number of Christian homes, shops and properties destroyed or attacked (more than 1,000), and the number of Christian churches and buildings attacked, a sign that the military junta has targeted certain minorities perceived as disturbing simply because they are Christians.