North Korean Christians risking their lives to pray and worship.
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Thousands of Christians have died for their faith in the past year, twice more than in 2012, according to Open Doors International’s 2014 World Watch List.
Open Doors International, a charity supporting Christians persecuted for their faith, said 2,123 Christians were reported to have been killed during 12 months ending October 31, 2014. In 2012 some 1, 201 Christians were killed, according to the report seen by BosNewsLife Thursday, January 9.
More Christians were killed in Syria alone than were killed globally in the previous year, the group said.
The World Watch List of 50 countries with the "worst" persecution, said the real
figure is much higher as it only cited the “very, very minimum” count of those
documented as killed.
"Estimates of the total number killed range from around 7,000 or 8,000,
according to the International Institute for Religious Freedom’s Thomas Schirrmacher, to the lofty 100,000 estimate of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity."
Beyond those killed, the World Watch List recommends that three more categories of Christians should be considered: Christians whose death is never reported, Christians killed due to increased vulnerability, such as those in conflict areas, and Christians who die due to long-term discrimination.
The World Watch List claimed Schirrmacher’s estimation is "roughly accurate", although the figure may be higher still.
"Christians aren’t always directly killed, but are so much squeezed with regulations and vulnerabilities that they just perish – not at once, but in the course of years. If we would include them in the counting, it would be an enormous number of people," the list writers noted.
"However, the precise number of Christians who die due to these factors is very difficult to quantify."
Syria heads the list of countries in which the most Christians were reportedly killed for their faith (1,213), followed by Nigeria (612), Pakistan (88) and Egypt (83).
Of the top 10, six are in Africa – with Kenya (20), Angola (16), Niger (15) and the Central African Republic (9) joining Nigeria and Egypt on the list.
Many Christians have died in the conflict in Central African Republic
The World Watch List states that the number of Christians killed in the Central African Republic is "especially likely to have been under-reported because most analysts still failed to recognize the religious dimension of the conflict”.
The List says the same is true of North Korea, where "it is extremely difficult to get public information."
Beyond the number of Christians killed, the World Watch List focused on other instances of violence, including physical aggression, threats, destruction or near destruction of churches or other Christian buildings, the closure of churches or Christian buildings, house expulsion or destruction, kidnap for ransom or intimidation, sexual assault, arrests and displacement.
"Considering only the sum of violent incidents recorded, Egypt (167) tops the list, followed by India (125) and Nigeria (118)."
Since 2003, the No. 1 spot for persecution of Christians has been held by North Korea, where exposed Christians face long prison terms or execution, Open Doors Said.
Among the top 10 on the list are six countries where the group stressed “the government has little or no control” including Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
Most are ranked as higher than in the 2013 World Watch List, with Syria holding the No. 3 spot, up from 11 a year ago.
Churches also targeted in Syria.
"The continuing civil war has afflicted all segments of society, but Christians have paid an especially high price, often at the hands of imported jihadists," Open Doors added.
In October, Islamist militias killed 46 Christians in Sadad, according to Open Doors investigators.
Pakistan, at No. 8, does little to control local politicians who provide room for
anti-Christian pressure to grow, Open Doors complained. "In October, two suicide bombers killed 96 Christians at a church in Peshawar, believed to be the worst single act of anti-Christian violence since Pakistan was created in 1947."
Not even on the list a year ago, the Central African Republic now occupies No. 16, "having spiralled into anarchy since the March overthrow of the government by an Islamist-dominated rebel coalition," Open Doors explained.
"In the months since, rebel attacks on Christian villages have killed thousands and driven up to 1 million people from their homes. The United Nations in December ordered an expanded force of African Union and French soldiers into lawless CAR to restore security."
The annual report also expresses concerns about rising Islamic extremism.
"Of the top 10 countries on the list, all but North Korea are majority Muslim. Continuing a 15-year trend, militant Islam is a growing source of pressure on Christians," Open Doors stressed.
This "has become the primary driver of persecution in 36 of the 50 countries on the list."
It said the situation is especially turbulent in sub-Saharan Africa where Central African Republic, Nigeria, Eritrea, and Sudan rank among the 10 most-violent countries for Christians in 2013.
Though somewhat less violent than those four countries, No. 2 Somalia is the first sub-Saharan nation to rank at the top of the World Watch List – or as high on the list as is possible, given North Korea’s perennial No. 1 position.
Islamic fighters have been active in Somalia.
Somalia is largely governed by militia-backed clans, not a central government, and prominent Islamic leaders regularly proclaim there is no place for Christians in the country.
"In this country, a Christian cannot trust anyone," Open Doors quoted a Somali Christian in its report as saying. "One false confidence and you literally lose your head."
Beyond Africa and the Middle East, several Asian countries climbed the list. In India, which rose from No. 31 in 2013 to No. 28 in the current list, the Hindu nationalist movement behind the Bharatiya Janata Party broadened its reach.
Two Asian countries not included on the 2013 list are included in 2014: Sri Lanka ranked No. 29, due largely to increased violence and the emergence of a Buddhist extremist movement that has targeted Christians and Muslims, Open Doors said.
Bangladesh is No. 48, mainly because of a new "Islamic extremist group demanding the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law," it added.
No country rose further on the World Watch List than Colombia, which ranked 46th a year ago and is No. 25 on the current list.
Open Doors says the higher ranking is due partly to improving research methods, and partly to a greater number of reports of violence toward Christians in 2013.
FARC rebels have also attacked devoted Christians, rights groups say.
A common source of violence is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has become more involved in the drug trade and has attacked Christians who oppose the illegal activity, according to Open Doors investigators.
The World Watch List claims to be the only annual global survey of Christian religious freedom, It measures freedom in five areas of life: private, family, community, national, the church and also the degree of violence.
For the first time, the methodology behind the annual list has been audited by an outside group, the International Institute for Religious Freedom, a network of academics around the world that seeks "reliable data on the violation of religious freedom worldwide," Open Doors said.
Open Doors said it sought the audit "to make the information-gathering and calculation process transparent."
Despite the setbacks, the 2014 list determines that pressure on Christians increased in 34 countries, decreased in five, and remained about the same in the remaining 14. The total is greater than 50 because three countries – Azerbaijan, Uganda and Kyrgyzstan – that were included in the 2013 list dropped off the list in 2014.
If the numbers tell a sobering story, they also help to drive a more positive narrative, said Brian Grim, senior researcher and director of cross-national data for the Religion & Public Life Project at the Pew Research Center, in Washington, D.C.
"Reports like the World Watch List, and those we produce at Pew Research Center, stimulate discussion and action among groups such as the United Nations, the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress," Grim said in published remarks. "In 2011 alone, the sources used in the latest Pew Research study reported that 76 percent of countries had government or societal initiatives to reduce religious restrictions or hostilities."