By: Kim Wilkinson
According to annual report released this month, COVID-19 has intensified the persecution and discrimination of at least 340 million Christians around the world.
The World Watch List 2021, produced by global charity Open Doors International, highlights that COVID-19 has been a catalyst for discrimination against Christians, including the denial of emergency relief where some were told “Your church or your God should feed you” and that the virus was created and spread by the West.
The report, which studies the most dangerous countries to be a Christian across the globe, once again found North Korea to be the most dangerous country for Christians for the 20th year in a row. However, for the first time ever, all countries in the top 50 score levels of at least “very high” persecution.
In India, 80% of those receiving emergency relief from Open Doors’ partners were first excluded from official distribution. The violent Islamic extremist group, Al Shabaab, in Somalia blamed Christians for COVID-19, announcing it was spread by the crusader forces who have invaded the country and the disbelieving countries that support them.
Open Doors Australia and New Zealand CEO, Mike Gore says, “This is a sad but true reality of persecution and discrimination around the world. The persecutors use whatever tools possible to inflict the most harm and the greatest consequence on Christians who choose to follow Jesus. It is a terrifying thought that another human would use the fear of COVID-19 as a tool of conformity when it comes to one’s faith choice.”
The top 12 countries score “extreme” levels of persecution, which is up from 11 in the previous year. Beyond the top 50, four more countries also score “very high,” showing the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Overall, 74 countries — one more than the previous year — experience extreme, very high or high levels of persecution, affecting at least 1 in every 8 Christians worldwide.
Gore continues, “This is an alarming trend and one that Western Churches and Governments need to be mindful of and proactively address. Religious freedom is coming at a greater cost each year and now more than ever before we need to use our voice to advocate for Persecuted Christians.”
The report also uncovered the deliberate targeting of Christians for human trafficking, especially that of women and girls for the sex trade. It has raised significant concern by gender-specific religious persecution experts.
90% of experts surveyed by the Religious Liberty Partnership agree that COVID-19 has caused an increased trafficking of women significantly or moderately. There was an increase in vulnerability to domestic violence during lockdown, particularly Christian converts and women. Reports of kidnapping, forced conversions and forced marriage of women and girls increased.
The study identified the impact of increasing saturation of technology into daily life meaning that in many places, governments can watch their citizens more closely than ever before. Surveillance cameras, facial recognition software and biometric-based systems have been used to monitor and target Christians in several countries.
Mike Gore concludes his thoughts on this year’s World Watch List: “The World Watch List is important because in many ways it paints a roadmap of successful Christianity, a tool that should inspire, encourage and compel the Western Church to act, to stand up and stand with their fellow Christians the world over who pay a high price for the freedoms we too often take for granted.”
To download the full 2021 World Watch List Report, go to opendoors.org.au/report
The Open Doors World Watch List is an annual report ranking the 50 most dangerous places to be a Christian. Countries are ranked by the severity of persecution, calculated by analysing the level of violence in addition to the pressure experienced in five spheres of life: private, family, community, church and national.
The World Watch List is a global research tool, in its 29th year in 2021. It was initially conceived as a tool to guide Open Doors fieldwork, now carried out in over 70 countries worldwide. Released at the beginning of each year, the list uses extensive research and surveys, data from Open Doors field workers and external experts to quantify and analyse persecution worldwide. It is certified by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (www.iirf.eu). The Institute carries out an annual audit of the list’s methodology and releases a corresponding audit statement. It is the most authoritative list of its kind. During the period covered (1 Oct 2019 – 30 Sept 2020), COVID-19 restrictions necessitated adaptations in on-ground data collection. With additional digital tools and expert research, Open Doors believes the World Watch List 2021 scoring and analysis maintains its quality and reliability.
Article supplied with thanks to Open Doors – a charity helping people follow Jesus all over the world, no matter the cost. Since 1955, Open Doors has been equipping persecuted Christians to remain in some of the hardest places to do so. This is done by delivering emergency relief, community development and discipleship in over 70 countries.
Article supplied with thanks to Christian Media & Arts Australia.
About the author: Kim is a media and communications professional who specialises in building community and valuable relationships.