WASHINGTON – Somewhere around the world, another Christian is martyred, on average, every three hours, according to a new report that concludes nations where radical Muslims are abundant are the worst places for Christians to live.
The new World Watch Top 10 Violence List published by Open Doors International said the majority of the cases in which Christians are killed because of their faith are in Nigeria, Syria and the Central African Republic.
“The alarming increase of violence against Christians in Nigeria over the past months highlights the lack of religious freedom they have and the daily dangers they face from the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram and other violent Islamic organizations,” said David Curry, president of Open Doors USA.
Curry added: “Going to school, attending church or identifying yourself as a Christian is a very brave decision in Nigeria. It is turning into a bloodbath. Christians in the West must stand in the gap with our prayers and support.”
The World Watch Top 10 Violence List is a continuation of the Open Doors 2014 World Watch List, covering the violence portion of the World Watch List questionnaire. The report looks at the nations where there is the most violence, up to and including murder, against Christians.
It is based on attacks between Nov. 1, 2012, and March 31, 2014, and lists Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, Central African Republic, Mexico, Pakistan, Colombia, India, Kenya and Iraq, in that order.
Observers might be surprised to find North Korea, the 2014 World Watch List’s No. 1 worst persecutor of Christians, absent from the Top 10 Violence List.
“When it comes to counting the numbers of Christians martyred, it is impossible to get an accurate number for North Korea,” said Jan Vermeer, Open Doors field worker for North Korea. “This is not because there are no Christians being killed for their faith. It is a fact that thousands of Christians are starved, abused and tortured in North Korea’s extensive prison system. But due to an inability to derive sufficiently accurate figures about the reasons for killing Christians in this most secretive society, North Korea is excluded from the total number of killings.”
In countries where Christians are persecuted, researchers recorded 3,641 churches and Christian properties destroyed and 13,120 other forms of violence against Christians such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests and forced marriages.
Open Doors researchers said Nigeria topped the list of faith-related killings with a total of 2,073 Christian martyrs, followed by Syria with 1,479, Central African Republic 1,115, Pakistan 228, Egypt 147, Kenya 85, Iraq 84, Burma 33, Sudan 33 and Venezuela 26.
Of the 5,479 Christians killed for their faith around the world, 85 percent were in Nigeria, Syria and Central African Republic. The estimated average of Christians killed for their faith per month in the reporting period is 322. That’s a murder about every three hours.
Researchers say the total number of martyrs is “a very minimum count and could be significantly higher.”
Sources for the World Watch Top 10 Violence List include external media and Internet searches, as well as Open Doors Field Operations, which directly works among and with persecuted Christians.
“The list shows that violence against Christians for faith-related reasons is spread all over the globe – from India, to African and Middle Eastern countries, and to Latin America,” said Frans Veerman, director of World Watch Research. “Islamic extremism, tribal antagonism and organized corruption are the main persecution engines fueling violence, with Islamic extremism being the major engine in seven of the top 10 countries.”
Veerman added: “Egypt is very high because of increased harassment and attacks by mobs and Islamist groups. Also, Latin America is well established in the Top 10. Mexico ranks No. 5, but is not ranked on the WWL, and Colombia No. 7. Latin America has always known high levels of corruption and state and insurgent violence. Christians are perpetually caught in the crossfire between tribes, guerrillas who are drug runners, landlords who are violent and soldiers running their own rackets.”
The World Watch Top 10 Violence List also includes the World Watch List reporting period of November 2012 to October 2013, but has been extended to include updated information. The top 10 countries on the WWL, in addition to top-ranked North Korea, are Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen. The WWL was released on Jan. 8.
Despite spending $2 trillion to finance wars and fight terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, at a cost of 6,700 American soldier’s lives, Iraq and Afghanistan are among top five worst for persecuted Christians, according to Open Doors USA.
This list comes on the heels of President Obama’s surprise visit to Afghanistan where he announced an unprecedented drawdown of troops to 9,800 and an end to the U.S. combat mission at the close of this year. At the same time, Iraq’s Shiite-led government is struggling to contain the worst surge in sectarian violence since the country was pushed to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has warned that Christians could disappear altogether from Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt as a result of troop withdrawal.
“The flight of Christians out of the region is unprecedented and it’s increasing year by year,” said Leonard Leo, chairman of the USCIRF.
Reports from the Islamic world seem to support the conclusion that Iraq was the earliest indicator of the fate awaiting Christians when dictators are removed.
In 2003, Iraq’s Christian population was at least 1 million. Today fewer than 400,000 remain after an anti-Christian campaign that began with the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Christian churches were bombed and Christians were killed, including by crucifixion and beheading.
Here are snapshots of five countries:
According to the WWL list, 2013 saw a significant increase in attacks and threats against Christians. Islamic terrorist groups, influenced by the conflict in Syria, are increasing in number and severity. Exacerbating the situation is the Iraqi government’s authoritarian reign under Islamic law. According to a local source, every two to three days a Christian is killed, kidnapped or abused. As a minority, Christians are an easy target for kidnappers. Even in the relatively unrestricted, semi-autonomous Kurdish region, the security situation for Christians is deteriorating.
In Afghanistan, conversion from Islam to Christianity is considered a serious crime, punishable by death, according to Islamic law. Abdul Latif, a Christian father, was brutally beheaded in June 2011 by four Islamic militants in the town of Enjeel for the “crime” of converting to Christianity.
As radical Islamic domination increases, Christians, both foreign and indigenous, are being systematically purged from the country. A statement posted by the Taliban in October 2011 said: “According to our reports … Christian evangelists and social organizations are directly inviting Afghans to Christianity. … These infidels, enemies of Islam under the name of corrupt democracy and their lords, need to know that the Afghan Islamic Emirate is seriously taking your activities into consideration. … The Afghan Islamic Emirate will take practical measures and has already made special plans to destroy all [their] centers one by one; the centers where plans are made that destroy the holy religion of Islam and Afghan culture.”
As a result of intensifying persecution, hundreds of Christians have fled Afghanistan and sought asylum in countries such as India, Norway and Britain. A 2010 International Religious Freedom report, published by the U.S. State Department, indicates that no public Christian churches or schools exist at all in Afghanistan, with the last church having been destroyed in March 2010.
Many Syrian Christians have fled to neighboring Turkey while thousands have paid the price for staying in Syria with their lives. The Christian community, about 10 percent of the population, is wary of the rising power of jihadist groups within the rebel movement, and much like in Nigeria, Iraq and Afghanistan, only a small percentage of Christians have taken up arms.
Al-Qaida-backed Boko Haram awoke the world to the plight of Christians in Nigeria when it kidnapped almost 300 school girls. WND was the first to report on how the current administration’s appeasement policy led to the death of 15-year-old Deborah Peter’s Christian father and brother at the hands of Boko Haram.
As WND reported, al-Qaida and other jihadi groups are growing because they are decentralized and difficult to track. The result is an unprecedented religious cleansing.
Their rise portends an even greater generational threat that is more brutal and ruthless than what al-Qaida has posed in the past. The problem emerging is that Western powers are tired, lack resources and apparently the commitment to conduct more intense operations.
“This extremism transcends borders and language barriers; and affects people across all sectors of society, regardless of religion, class or gender,” according to Middle East expert Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi, who writes on terrorism trends for various Middle East publications.