World Watch List finds Nork Korea most dangerous place for World's Christians in 'year of fear'
Persecution of Christians is increasing and for millions of its faithful around the world, 2015 has been a "year of fear", says Open Doors, which once again has placed North Korea as the most dangerous place to be a Christian.
Open Doors, has supported the persecuted church since its founding by Brother Andrews 50 years ago, and each year publishes its World Watch list of the top 50 most dangerous countries to be a Christian.
"Islamic extremism remains by far the most common driver of persecution: in eight out of the top 10, and 35 out of the top 50 countries, it is the primary cause," says the 2016 Open Doors World Watch List.
"A rise in Islamic extremism sees Pakistan at its highest position ever, and Libya entering the top ten for the first time," says the Open Doors reported.
'IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT ISLAM'
"But it's not just about Islam. A rise in hardline Hindu nationalism in India has seen churches and pastors attacked with impunity. It enters the top 20 for the first time."
It says research shows that persecution against Christians has increased so dramatically that persecution has risen even in those countries that have dropped out of its top 50.
Open Doors rates the level of persecution as "extreme" in nine countries. For the 14th year in a row, North Korea is top of the list; followed by Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.
Open Doors comments, however, "But where there is great fear, there is also great faith. What this List also shows is that the church may be persecuted, it may be suppressed, attacked, vilified, lied about. But it has not been, and will never be, defeated."
The north east African reclusive State of Eritrea has entered the top five for the first time.
"Religious extremism – Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist – is the greatest source of persecution of Christians," says Open Doors, while noting that "gender violence is a weapon of persecution: women and girls are on the frontline.".
Open Doors records show that worldwide there were over 7,000 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the year – almost 3,000 more than the previous year.
It says its estimates exclude North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist.
Around 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged – over double the number for last year. In terms of violence against Christians and Christian property, Nigeria and Central African Republic topped the list.
'FAILED NATION STATES'
The report notes that "Conflict and failed nation states result in increased levels of persecution."
One of its key findings is that never before have so many Christians been on the move.
"According to the UN, a record 60 million people have been displaced. A great number of these are Christians, especially in places like Syria, Iraq and Nigeria, where anti-Christian violence has driven hundreds of thousands of Christians from their homes."
The entry of India, often referred to as the world's biggest democracy, into the top 20 most dangerous place at17 is a first.
Open Doors says, "Persecution in India is extremely violence - and the violence is increasing.
"More than 350 Christians were physically attacked, at least nine Christians were killed for their faith and at least three women were raped in the reporting year.
"Attacks mainly come from Hindu extremists, although extremist Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Maoists have all targeted Christians.
"The Indian government, now led by Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is turning a blind eye to attacks against religious minorities, allowing Christians to be attacked with impunity."
'ISLAMIC EXTREMISM CROSSING BORDERS'
When it comes to Islamic extremism, Open Doors say its has been crossing borders
"Islamic State (IS) has moved beyond Syria and Iraq and into Libya. Boko Haram has spread to Cameroon and Chad, and al-Shabaab into Kenya. Meanwhile, many smaller extremist movements have declared themselves part of the IS group of caliphates.
"Even the West has felt the tremors. Bombs in Paris, gunfights in California, holidaymakers killed on a Tunisian beach: in a globalised world, there is no such place as abroad anymore."
Open Doors says some of the good news is that the wider Church is speaking out.
"In November 2015, for the first time in the modern history of Christianity, high level representatives of various church traditions gathered together to listen to, learn from, and stand with, persecuted churches and Christians," it said in reference to a meeting held in Tirana, Albania convened by the Global Christian Forum.
"Leaders of the world's great Christian traditions pledged to 'listen more, pray more, speak up more, and do more' for the world's persecuted believers," said Open Doors.