2017 World Watch List Reveals Worst Year Yet as Persecution Surges

Open Doors Exposes World's Top 50 Most Dangerous Countries for Christians 

Today Open Doors USA released its World Watch List, which highlights the countries where Christians face the most persecution. The 50-country ranking divulged that persecution rose globally again for the third year in a row, indicating how volatile the situation has become. Countries in South and Southeast Asia rapidly rose to unprecedented levels and now rank among such violent areas as the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Open Doors World Watch List is a global indicator of countries where human and religious rights are being violated, and those countries most vulnerable to societal unrest and destabilization. This is the 25th year of the Open Doors World Watch List, and it remains the only annual survey to rank the 50 most difficult countries in which to be a Christian.

Approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high or extreme persecution in the countries on the Open Doors World Watch List. Islamic extremism remains the global dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries on the list.

The total number of persecution incidents in the top 50 most dangerous countries increased, revealing the persecution of Christians worldwide as a rising trend. Mali moved up the most places on the list, from No. 44 to No. 32. ISIS continues to spread and now has cell groups in South and Southeast Asia as persecution rose sharply in Bangladesh, Laos and Bhutan. Another country in the region, Sri Lanka, is a newcomer to the list for 2017.

Around the world, ethnic nationalism increased in 2016. While this took an anti-establishment form in the West, in Asia it took an anti-minorities form, fueled by dramatic religious nationalism and government insecurity. It is common—and easy—for tottering governments to gain quick support by scapegoating Christians.

Pakistan rose to No. 4 on the list and had the overall highest level of violence, exceeding even northern Nigeria.

With the election of Prime Minister Nahrendra Modi in May 2014, India climbed to its highest rank ever, No. 15, as Hindu nationalists battered Christian churches. Modi has instilled Hindu nationalism in India since the election, and the results have been catastrophic for Christians. An average of 40 incidents were reported per month, including pastors beaten, churches burned and Christians harassed. Eight Christians were killed for their faith, a staggering increase for this country. Of the 64 million Christians in India, approximately 39 million experience direct persecution.

Both the government and Islamic extremism drove the spread of persecuting Christians in Central Asia. In many countries, governmental raids of suspected Christian households increased, certain Christian books were banned and the membership requirement to remain a legal church doubled, resulting in many churches being deemed illegal overnight. In addition, young men are joining ISIS by the thousands, while some are carrying out extremist acts in their own communities by their own accord.

Middle East and Africa
Violent incidents in the Middle East continue to make headlines. Less known is that the Islamic militancy has been gaining ground in more sectors of society by building extremist schools in Somalia, Kenya, Niger and Burkina Faso, as well as targeting local government cadres by asking for concessions to build mosques and sponsoring those who are running for office. In this region, all categories of persecution on the World Watch List are rising (private, family, community, church and national life). Extremist violent movements have left behind a more radicalized people.

The situation in Syria and Iraq is currently difficult for all citizens; but in the face of war, extremists are specifically targeting Christian towns, churches and parts of major cities.

The Americas  
Hitting closer to home, 23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith. This rounds out a rare report for 2017 in which the killings of Christians have been more geographically dispersed.

Researchers calculated (on a scale of 100) the top 10 nations where Christians found it most dangerous and difficult to practice their faith in 2016:

  1. North Korea (92 points)
  2. Somalia (91 points)
  3. Afghanistan (89 points)
  4. Pakistan (88 points)
  5. Sudan (87 points)
  6. Syria (86 points)
  7. Iraq (86 points)
  8. Iran (85 points)
  9. Yemen (85 points)
  10. Eritrea (82 points)

Yemen is the only new country to join the top 10 list, replacing Libya.

"For Christians in the West, the Open Doors World Watch List is a clear indicator that we need to advocate on behalf of those who do not have the same religious freedom privileges we do," said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. "We hope the Trump administration will address religious liberties in the first 100 days in office."

The 2017 Open Doors World Watch List marks the 25th anniversary of chronicling and ranking countries on the persecution of Christians. Over the past 25 years, only three countries have topped the list: North Korea (2002 – 2017), Saudi Arabia (1993 – 1995; 1998 – 2001) and Somalia (1996 – 1997). The 25-year cumulative top 10 list includes:

  1. North Korea
  2. Saudi Arabia
  3. Iran
  4. Somalia
  5. Afghanistan
  6. Maldives
  7. Yemen
  8. Sudan
  9. Vietnam
  10. China

"The Open Doors World Watch List is the most accurate, thorough and intensive research available on the persecution of Christians," said Curry. "It calculates not only deaths reported in the news, but also persecution at a grassroots level, where family-to-family persecution is tracked. The 25-year research shows where the most unstable areas for Christians have historically been and, in many countries, remain."

Persecution at a Glance
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of home and assets, torture, beheadings, rape and even death as a result of their faith.

View the complete 2017 World Watch List.

The Open Doors World Watch List is the only annual survey of the state of religious liberty for Christians around the world. From Nov. 1, 2015, to Oct. 31, 2016, researchers measured the degree of freedom a Christian has to live out his or her faith in five spheres of life—private, family, community, national and church, plus a sixth category measuring the degree of violence. Points are given for each incident of persecution and the total points provide the ranking for each country. For more information on the methodology of the Open Doors World Watch List, please visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.

About Open Doors USA
For more than 60 years, Open Doors USA has worked in the world's most oppressive and restrictive countries for Christians. Open Doors works to equip and encourage Christians living in dangerous circumstances with the threat of persecution and equips the Western church to advocate for the persecuted. Christians are one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries. For more information, visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.