The nonprofit, nondenominational international organization released its 25th annual list at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in January, identifying 2016 as the “worst year yet” based on political and societal restrictions on religious freedom.
Open Doors stated that “Persecution rose globally again for the third year in a row, indicating how volatile the situation has become. ...Countries in South and Southeast Asia rapidly rose to unprecedented levels and now rank among such violent areas as the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.”
“Persecution rose globally again for the third year in a row, indicating how volatile the situation has become.”
The organization also released an analysis of trends in Christian persecution over the past quarter-century since first publication of World Watch List. Examining five spheres of life (private, family, community, national, and church), and levels of religiously motivated violence, Open Doors ranks the 50 countries where “Christians face the most persecution.” The full lists are available here.
Christianity Today summarized major findings and trends from the Open Doors report, calling them “stark”:
- Approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high, or extreme persecution.
- North Korea remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian (for 14 straight years).
- Violent extremism by fringe Muslims remains the global dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries on the 2017 list.
- Ethnic nationalism is fast becoming a major driver of persecution. Open Doors said “It is common—and easy—for tottering governments to gain quick support by scapegoating Christians.”
- The total number of persecution incidents in the top 50 most dangerous countries increased, revealing the persecution of Christians worldwide as a rising trend.
- The most violent, Pakistan, rose to No. 4 on the list for a level of violence “exceeding even northern Nigeria.”
- Killings of Christians in Nigeria increased 62 percent.
- Mali worsened the most, moving up on the list from No. 44 to No. 32.
- Persecution rose sharply in Bangladesh, Laos, and Bhutan, and Sri Lanka joined the list for the first time.
In addition to the annual World Watch List, Open Doors operates 24 bases worldwide, training pastors and church leaders in evangelism and providing Bibles and physical assistance to Christians in restricted countries. The ministry began in 1955 when a Dutch Christian smuggled Bibles into Poland after learning that entire underground Christian churches were sharing one Bible.