In 2018 Open Doors, an organization that seeks to raise awareness for persecuted Christians and serve victims of violence, released its World Watch List (WWL) ranking of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to “follow Jesus.”
WWL defines persecution as “any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions toward Christians” (1). There are two main expressions of such persecution they call “squeeze” (the pressure Christians experience in all areas of life) and “smash” (plain violence):
“While smash can be measured and tracked through the reporting of concrete incidents, the squeeze is documented by discerning how Christian life and witness is placed under pressure in 5 specific spheres of life (see Appendix 3). After a series of initial research inquiries, a questionnaire consisting of 84 questions (covering the reporting period 1 November – 31 October) is filled out by Open Doors’ field staff and networks in countries experiencing persecution.”
Open Doors currently has workers located in more than 60 countries where persecution of Christians is at its worst, and their study estimated that in 2017 some 215 million Christians (roughly 1 in 12) worldwide experienced high, very high, or extreme levels of persecution and live where their religion is “illegal, forbidden, or punished” (2). According to the report, in 2017, 3066 Christians were killed, 1252 abducted, 1020 raped or sexually harassed, 33 967 forced to leave their homes, and 793 churches attacked (3). The organization has even attempted to reach the most secretive Christians living in North Korea where it has sent practical aid and more than 3000 letters from Christians in America who wrote messages to North Korean believers. Open Doors delivered the letters to the underground church through an undisclosed radio program.
Open Doors created a measuring scale to determine the violence rating it gives to each country. This scale takes into account five categories: private life, family life, community life, national life, and church life. The most recent results (as of 2019) show that the worst country to live in as a Christian is North Korea (with a rating of 94/100). Kim Jung-un’s country has occupied the leading spot for persecutor of Christians for 17 years in a row while just biting at their heels is Afghanistan (also at a 94/100). Open Doors says that “Both countries are extreme in intolerance and outright persecution of Christians in every area Open Doors monitors.”
The organization’s top-100 ranking finds that 11 of the top 15 countries where Christians are most persecuted are Islamic majority nations. A further two of these (Eritrea and Nigeria) have both a significant Islamic and Christian population. 13 of the top 15 have the reason for Christian persecution stated as “Islamic oppression”, while for the Hindu majority India (ranking in at 10th worst place to follow Jesus) the reason stipulated is “religious nationalism.” India has also seen an increase in religious and social intolerance toward religious minorities, including Christians and Muslims, on behalf of extremist Hindu nationalist groups.
If one takes Afghanistan as an example, Open Doors reports that the country is “an Islamic state by constitution, which means government officials, ethnic group leaders, religious officials and citizens are hostile toward adherents of any other religion. This means any expression of any faith other than Islam is simply not permitted to exist” (4). Christians living there are in hiding out of fear, and to convert to any faith other than Islam is tantamount to treason because it is seen as a betrayal of family, tribe, and country. The security situation continues to deteriorate in the country due to the influx of foreign ISIS militants and the growth of the Taliban. Open Doors reports that at least half of the country’s provinces are either ruled or contested by the Taliban.
In Saudi Arabia (ranked 15), the law forbids the practice of any religion other than Islam, although roughly 4% of the population are Christians (5). Conversion from Islam is punishable by death, and there are no church buildings, and any meetings between Christian are held in secret. At home, Saudi Christians risk honour-killings or violent attacks from their families and communities. Despite these challenges, Christians in the country continues to increase.
Top 15 worst places to live as a Christian:
1. North Korea (94/100)
2. Afghanistan (94/100)
3. Somalia (91/100)
4. Libya (87/100)
5. Pakistan (87/100)
6. Sudan (87/100)
7. Eritrea (86/100)
8. Yemen (86/100)
9. Iran (85/100)
10. India (83/100)
11. Syria (82/100)
12. Nigeria (80/100)
13. Iraq (79/100)
14. Maldives (78/100)
15. Saudi Arabia (77/100)
45. UAE (58/100)
46. Sri Lanka (58/100)
47. Colombia (58/100)
48. Bangladesh (58/100)
49. Palestinian Territories (58/100)
50. Azerbaijan (58/100)
1. Open Doors. How the Scoring Works. Available.
2. Open Doors. 2017. 2017 Annual Report. p. 2, 5.
3. Open Doors. 2017. Ibid. p. 6.
4. Open Doors. Afghanistan. Available.
5. Open Doors. Saudi Arabia. Available.