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The top countries facing Christian persecution

Open Doors releases 2024 World Watch List

Christian persecution

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:

  • nearly 5,000 Christians murdered last year, 
  • more than 4,000 detained, 
  • almost 300,000 displaced, 
  • and an estimated 365 million persecuted for their Christian faith. 

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 

Christian persecution

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