In today’s world, Christians continue to face persecution and discrimination in various parts of the globe. The Open Doors World Watch List has been tracking such persecution for the past 31 years, providing valuable insights into the countries where human and religious rights are violated. The list not only serves as a global indicator of persecution but also highlights the nations most vulnerable to societal unrest and destabilization.
Understanding Persecution: The Pursuit of Faith
Persecution, as defined by the Greek word commonly translated in the Bible, means “pursuit.” It goes beyond conflicts or disputes in a particular area; it specifically targets individuals based on their faith. The Open Doors World Watch List focuses on documenting cases where Christians are targeted, disadvantaged, rejected, or attacked solely because of their religious beliefs.
The 2023 World Watch List: The Most Dangerous Countries for Christians
The 2023 World Watch List reveals the severity of persecution in many countries. Topping the list once again is North Korea, where being a Christian can have dire consequences. Let’s explore the top 10 countries with the highest levels of persecution and learn how we can support and pray for believers in these nations.
1. North Korea: Communist and Post-Communist Oppression
Estimated number of Christians: 400,000
In North Korea, practicing Christianity is a dangerous endeavor. The government strictly controls religious activities, and believers face harsh punishments, including execution. Families of Christians are also targeted and sent to labor camps. As Christians bravely gather in secret, our prayer should be for their protection from the authorities’ prying eyes.
2. Somalia: Islamic and Clan Oppression
Estimated number of Christians: Hundreds
Somalia poses a significant threat to Christians, especially those from a Muslim background who have converted to Christianity. Militant groups, such as al-Shabaab, consider these converts high-value targets. Young female converts are particularly vulnerable and face forced marriages, sexual harassment, and physical violence. Let us pray for Somali believers, that they may find comfort and ways to grow in their faith despite the isolation they face.
3. Yemen: Islamic and Clan Oppression
Estimated number of Christians: A few thousand
Yemen’s overwhelmingly Muslim population makes it illegal for individuals to convert from Islam to Christianity. Tribal law further prohibits members from leaving the tribe. Yemeni Christian converts are at great risk of being killed by their families, clans, and tribes. Our prayer should be for a change in the atmosphere of scrutiny and mistrust, allowing all Yemenis to live safely and with freedom.
4. Eritrea: Christian Denominational Protectionism
Estimated number of Christians: 1,709,000
Eritrea recognizes only three official Christian denominations: Orthodox, Catholic, and Lutheran. The government closely monitors these churches, while other Christian groups face persecution. Many Christians are indefinitely detained in prisons without official charges. Some church leaders have been imprisoned in terrible conditions for over a decade. Let us pray for supernatural strength, hope, and joy for the imprisoned believers and their families.
5. Libya: Islamic and Clan Oppression
Estimated number of Christians: 35,400
Libya has become a lawless land where both native Christians and those passing through face extreme violence. With no central government to provide law and order, militant Islamic extremist groups and organized crime groups wield power. Christians are targeted, kidnapped, and sometimes killed. Our prayer should be for nationwide stability and the swift establishment of law and order in Libya.
6. Nigeria: Islamic Oppression
Estimated number of Christians: 100,420,000
In Nigeria, violence against Christians is pervasive, particularly in the north. Militant groups like Boko Haram, ISWAP, and Fulani militants inflict murder, physical injury, abduction, and sexual violence on their victims. Christians are displaced and dispossessed of their land and means of livelihood. Let us pray for an end to the violence inflicted by these militant groups across Nigeria.
7. Pakistan: Islamic Oppression
Estimated number of Christians: 4,194,000
Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws disproportionately target religious minorities, including Christians. False accusations under these laws have increased, with Christian girls being abducted, abused, and forcibly converted to Islam. Our prayer should be for a change in these laws to ensure the safety of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.
8. Iran: Islamic Oppression
Estimated number of Christians: 1,245,000
Iranian Christians, particularly those from Muslim backgrounds who have converted to Christianity, face surveillance, harassment, arrests, and prosecution. Iranian house church leaders and members endure long prison sentences involving physical and mental abuse. Let us pray for the Iranian Christians meeting in secret, that they may have strong faith and courage.
9. Afghanistan: Islamic Theocracy Imposed by the Taliban
Estimated number of Christians: Thousands
Following the Taliban’s takeover of power in August 2021, Christians in Afghanistan are forced further underground or to leave the country entirely. House groups are closed, and believers abandon their possessions. Despite promises of recognizing freedoms, the Taliban continues to view following Jesus as a death sentence.