Despite worsening persecution, North Korea has dropped to No. 2 in the Open Doors World Watch List as the Taliban's recent takeover of Afghanistan makes that country No. 1 on the list for the first time, severely impacting the country's tiny pocket of Christians.
When the Taliban advanced across Afghanistan in 2021, culminating in the capture of Kabul on Aug. 15, many Afghans fled the country, and there was wide expectation that freedoms would be swiftly curtailed.
"It's just not an option to follow Jesus in public," Open Door quoted a secret believer from Afghanistan as saying.
The group that helps persecuted Christians worldwide said that for them there no freedoms to lose as Afghanistan had been number two on the Open Doors World Watch List for several years.
"This is because it is impossible to live openly as a Christian in in the country. Leaving Islam is considered shameful, and Christian converts face dire consequences if their new faith is discovered. Either they have to flee the country or they will be killed," says Open Doors.
The Taliban's seizure of power makes the risk of discovery for Christians even greater.
It notes that The Taliban controls every aspect of government, which extends to owning documentation – including paperwork from international troops – that may help identify Christians.
Most believers in the country are Christian converts from Islam and face torture, imprisonment and execution if they are discovered, Premier Christian News reports.
Following the sudden withdrawal of U.S. and UK troops from Afghanistan in August 2021, a number of reports and recordings were left behind which have allowed the Taliban to identify Christian communities there.
Open Doors UK and Ireland CEO, Henrietta Blyth says Islamic extremists there are now actively hunting out Christians to eradicate them from the country, Premier reported.
"They want to create a pure Islamic state and they have reintroduced Sharia law.
"If found, men are detained, interrogated and then killed. Women and girls can be subject to forced marriage, imprisonment and if raped they are often trafficked as a result," said Blyth.
"The situation for Christians in Afghanistan is absolutely horrific at the moment."
Christians who have fled to neighbouring nations remain vulnerable to attack as all of the surrounding countries also feature on the Open Doors WWL