A dozen more countries have been added to the list of areas where Christians experience high persecution, according to Open Doors International.

The latest survey by the persecution watchdog shows one in nine Christians globally experience “high” levels of persecution, as compared to one in 12 the previous year. It is worst across Asia and the Middle East, where one in three Christians experience “high” levels of persecution.

New laws on religious expression

Open Doors also warns that new laws in China and Vietnam are part of an effort to control all religious expression. In China, the wave of persecution is as high as that experienced during the cultural revolution of Mao Zedong in the 1970s. Many churches have been forced to close down, crosses have been removed from a number of buildings and some believers have been sent to “re-education camps”.

The annual ranking of religious persecution in 50 countries indicates that at least 245 million Christians in 73 countries experience high levels of persecution – up from 215 million in 58 countries in the previous year. The sources of persecution vary from government and nationalist crackdowns to Hindu and Islamic attacks.

At least 245 million Christians in 73 countries experience high levels of persecution

The world's worst persecution hotspot

North Korea remains the world’s worst persecution hotspot, as it has been every year since 2002. Persecution rose in Myanmar – it is now up to 18th position from 24th – and Indonesia rises to 30 from 38th position last year, mainly due to suicide bombing attacks against churches. China moved up 16 positions to number 27.

Nigeria suffered the most deaths through persecution. In the north and Middle Belt of Nigeria, 3731 Christians were killed in the past year for their faith. That’s almost double the number recorded the previous year and accounts for 90 per cent of the number of recorded persecution deaths worldwide.

3731 Christians were killed in the last year for their faith

Open Doors reports that Nigerian villages were completely abandoned by Christians, forced to flee from the violence, as armed attackers moved in and settled. Persecution comes mainly from the nomadic, Muslim-majority Fulani herdsmen, and the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

Persecution dropped, though, in Iraq, which fell five places to the rank of 13th on the 2019 World Watch List. This is due to the defeat of the Islamic State insurgency in the country and the return of thousands of Christians to rebuild and resettle, especially in the Nineveh region.