The top countries facing Christian persecution

Open Doors releases 2024 World Watch List

January 19, 2024

Following Jesus has always been a call to risk everything. All throughout the Gospels, Jesus pulls no punches about what it looks like to be his disciple: “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24); “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39); “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). While these reminders from Jesus are always true, in some parts of the world they are experienced more imminently than others.

Every January, Open Doors releases its annual World Watch List—a project that ranks the top 50 countries worldwide where it’s most dangerous to identify as a follower of Jesus. In recent days, the organization published the 2024 World Watch List, revealing updated information and trends from the last 12 months. You can find and read the full report here.

Trends and statistics

According to the report’s findings, on average “thirteen Christians a day were killed for their faith in 2023.” This number was part of a larger trend that saw:

That means one in seven Christians around the world currently experience high, and sometimes dangerously violent levels of persecution on a daily basis.

Moreover, according to the report, “The number of attacks on churches and Christian-run schools, hospitals, and cemeteries exploded in 2023.” Almost 15,000 churches and Christian properties were attacked in 2023, which is a “seven-fold [increase] compared to the previous year.” In China alone, some 10,000 churches were shuttered, while in Algeria the number of Protestant churches went from 47 to four. Countries like India, Nigeria, Nicaragua, and Ethiopia closed and/or attacked churches at an alarming rate as well.

Overall, more Christians faced violent attacks in 2023 than ever recorded. The number of displaced Christians around the world more than doubled. One in five Christians in Africa were persecuted for their faith, while that number was two in five for Christians in Asia. Worldwide, Christians faced more hostility in 2023 than they have in recent years. 

Country rankings for Christian persecution

Sitting atop this year’s World Watch List are the same 10 countries as the 2023 list, though the order has shuffled slightly. The countries in order are:

  1. North Korea
  2. Somalia
  3. Libya
  4. Eritrea
  5. Yemen
  6. Nigeria
  7. Pakistan
  8. Sudan
  9. Iran
  10. Afghanistan 

Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa are the regions with the greatest concentration of persecution around the globe. 

Asia: In North Korea, “being discovered to be a Christian … is effectively a death sentence.” Being found out means you’re either deported and sentenced to a life of hard labor or killed along with your family. Religious freedom and the freedom to worship are nonexistent, so meeting for worship or even possessing a Bible or other Christian literature is done at great risk and in utmost secrecy. North Korea is just one example among many Asian countries where persecution is rampant including India (11), China (19), Myanmar (17), Vietnam (35), Malaysia (49), and Indonesia (42). 

Middle East: The Middle East has always been a hotly contested piece of real estate, which remains true today. Saudi Arabia (13), Syria (12), Yemen (5), Iraq (16), and Iran (9), among others, are countries where following Jesus is an extreme risk. In Yemen, for example, a majority-Muslim country where denouncing Islam can mean death or banishment, there are very few Christians. But for those who are Christians, they must keep their faith secret or face “divorce, loss of custody of children, arrest, interrogation, or death.” 

North Africa: On the African continent, Morocco (24), Algeria (15), Tunisia (33), Libya (3), Egypt (38), Sudan (8), and others all made the list. In Nigeria (6)—a country of almost 103 million Christians—it is shockingly dangerous to be a Christian. In fact, “More people are killed for their faith in Nigeria each year, than everywhere else in the world combined.” Nine out of ten religiously-motivated murders worldwide occur in Nigeria. Nineteen of the 50 countries included on the 2024 World Watch List are located in Africa.

While the 10 most dangerous countries have largely stayed the same, it is worth noting that other countries’ rankings have risen significantly in the last year or more (meaning they are becoming more dangerous). For instance, as recently as 2022, Nicaragua was not included on the World Watch List. However, Nicaragua was on last year’s list at number 50 and this year’s at number 30 due to its rapidly deteriorating political situation. Likewise, over the last few years Cuba has risen from being unlisted in 2021 to number 37 in 2022 to 27 in 2023 to number 22 on this year’s list. Like Nicaragua, Cuba’s persecution is mostly delivered by the Cuban government. 

Positive trends

Thankfully, there’s some good news to share as well. First, fewer Christians were killed for their faith in 2023 (4,998) than in 2022 (5,621), which was also lower than the previous year (5,898). Five thousand people is far, far too many, but the downward trend is welcome news in a report filled with dire findings.

As the report points out, political developments in countries like Mali (14) and India (11) show signs of progress and hope. In 2023, Mali adopted a new constitution which recognizes non-Muslim minorities and “paved the way for elections in a nation currently ruled by a military government.” Similarly, India rolled back anti-conversion laws that have long been a tool of persecution, giving hope to Christians who have experienced harassment and intimidation due to the now defunct laws. 

In Laos, a country that has exploded in religious persecution and jumped 10 spots on the World Watch List, the Church there is flourishing and growing. According to one country expert, “I have never seen a clearer connection between growing opposition and a growing church.” 

How can we stand with our brothers and sisters around the world facing Christian persecution?

After reading a report like this, we may experience a number of emotions: helplessness, fear, compassion, horror, and others. And since we’re mostly far removed from the people represented on this list, it’s easy to put the report down and simply move on. As Christians, though, regardless of how many miles lie between us, these are our brothers and sisters. So what should we do?

At the very least, we should labor in prayer for our brothers and sisters in the faith. After all, we believe that God works powerfully and providentially through our prayers. Many of us can give financially to people and organizations that serve the persecuted church in difficult locations. Some of us may even be compelled to go to these places ourselves. But all of us can pray—and there’s no better and more powerful way to strengthen these Christians and help them persevere than to approach God on their behalf in prayer. 

So, use this year’s World Watch List as a prayer prompt. Let it motivate you to pray and inform the way you pray for those around the world who “suffer from high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith”—the same faith we get to exercise without threat or fear. As we pray, the ERLC will continue to advocate for the recognition of religious liberty in all countries around the world 

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24