Fact Sheet: Persecution of Christians

Persecution: Any hostility or mistreatment perpetrated against someone primarily because of the victim's identification as a Christian or follower of Jesus Christ

  • The persecution of those identifying as followers of Jesus Christ, or "Christians," dates back to the time of Christ, including under Jewish and Roman authorities in the early years, perhaps most notoriously under the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. The Roman historian Tacitus1 references the blame Nero placed on Christians for the fire in Rome in 64 A.D. He writes that Nero "punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians."2
  • A report in 2015 identified that year as the most violent for Christians in modern history, rising to "a level akin to ethnic cleansing."3 A more recent report shows persecution against Christians continuing to rise globally, marking the third consecutive yearly increase.4
  • More than 75 percent of the world's population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions.5
  • About 215 million Christians experience "high, very high or extreme persecution" in the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.6
  • Christians in more than 65 countries face persecution from their governments or community, simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.7
  • 2016 saw a rapid rise of persecution in South and Southeast Asia to "unprecedented levels," putting them on par with areas like the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.8 In 2015, the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia had been identified as the most rapidly growing areas of persecution.9
  • Due to "years of persecution and discrimination," Christianity in the Middle East has seen a decline from 20 percent of the region's population a century ago to no more than 3 – 4 percent today.10
  • Open Doors USA's 2017 World Watch List of the top 50 countries where Christians face the greatest persecution can be found here, with the top 10 countries being:
    • North Korea
    • Somalia
    • Afghanistan
    • Pakistan
    • Sudan
    • Syria
    • Iraq
    • Iran
    • Yemen
    • Eritrea
  • Persecution of Christians is not confined to a particular area or hemisphere of the world, and in fact affects nearly every continent, including 23 people who died in Mexico in 2016 "specifically because of their faith."11
  • On average monthly, worldwide:12
    • 322 Christians are killed for their faith
    • 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed
    • 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians (e.g., beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests and forced marriages)

1Annals (XV, 44), accessed via The University of Chicago
2Ibid.
3According to a CNN article covering Open Doors USA's World Watch List
4According to Open Doors USA
5According to The Pew Research Center, per Open Doors USA
6According to Open Doors USA
7According to Open Doors USA
8According to Open Doors USA
9According to the World Watch List report
10Alon Ben-Meir, senior fellow, Center for Global Affairs at NYU
11According to David Curry of Open Doors USA
12According to Open Doors USA