Religious freedom organization Release International recently reported five countries where Christian persecution is surging. Release International’s Persecution Trends 2022 Report named Burkina Faso and its surrounding Sahel region, Nigeria, Afghanistan, North Korea and India as countries of “growing concern.”
Here’s the situation in each region:
Burkina Faso and the Sahel Region
Burkina Faso is located in Africa’s Sahel region, which runs across the western, sub-Saharan countries of Mauritania and Mali to the eastern countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea. According to Release International’s report, Islamist militants have gained ground across this region as part of a nine year conflict that has displaced nearly 3.4 million people.
In 2021, jihadists targeted Christians in northern Burkina Faso and forced Christians to meet secretly. Attacks on Christians range from bombings and kidnappings to school burnings or assaults on religious leaders, the report stated. According to estimates by Open Doors USA, there are around 1 million displaced people in Burkina Faso itself, and many are Christians.
“The situation facing Christians in Burkina Faso is now similar to Nigeria,” said a partner of Release International.
Conflict in Burkina Faso is expected to worsen in 2022 as French troops continue to drawdown.
Throughout 2021, the number of Christians killed in Nigeria arguably reached the level of genocide. About 17 Christians are killed per day, according to ACIA Africa. In 2021’s first 200 days 3,462 Christians were murdered — the highest number since 2014.
The conflict in Nigeria is ongoing. Since 2009, nearly 43,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed, according to a report by Intersociety. Boko Haram, Fulani militants, and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) have continually targeted Christian homes, churches, and schools.
“Fulani militants destroyed more than 50 villages and displaced nearly 5,000 Christians,” said a Release International partner. “The attacks by the Fulani now include kidnappings for ransom. Churches, church leaders and Christian communities remain the primary targets.”
Release International notes that with political campaigns kicking off this year for Nigeria’s general elections in 2023, tensions are expected to intensify. “In the past, attacks by Boko Haram and Fulani extremists have increased over election periods,” stated the report.
In 2021, Afghanistan was marked by the unforgettable images of families flooding the Kabul airport to escape an imminent Taliban takeover. Since then, the small number of Christians remaining in Afghanistan are in ever-increasing danger and are forced to keep their faith secret.
According to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List entry on Afghanistan, converts from Islam to Christianity face the greatest threat — death, torture or even institutionalization for insanity. If discovered, Christians must either flee the country or die.
“Christians are afraid of being reported by family members or neighbours, and fear violent treatment by the Taliban,” said a Release International partner, who, according to the report, “received reports of ‘homes being searched and some individuals receiving threats.’”
Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International, stated: “Our partners tell us that Christians who are unable to follow the outward forms of Islam, such as praying at the mosque and saying the shahada, the Islamic profession of faith, will stand out more clearly. This increases their vulnerability to persecution and the pressure on them to conform.”
Release International’s report observes that food shortages in addition to the Taliban takeover in 2021 destabilized Afghanistan’s economy. Violent persecution in Afghanistan will continue to rise in 2022 as a lack of food and work exacerbate tensions.
North Korea is one of the most hostile countries towards Christianity in the world. Religious freedom within the country is nonexistent, and Christians must keep their faith secret or else face execution, torture or imprisonment in a labor camp. Of the estimated 400,000 Christians in North Korea, 50-70,000 Christians are currently in labor camps, according to Open Doors USA.
Release International states that the return of famine to North Korea poses a threat to the stability of the nation. Various reports from inside and outside the hermit country warned that the winter months at the end of 2021 and beginning of 2022 could prove deadly for the lower classes.
Economic instability and food shortages could escalate persecution as Christians are pressured and exposed.
Christian persecution in India rose dramatically in 2021 as attacks by Hindu extremists became more frequent. Hindu extremists have the support of India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and believe that all Indians should be Hindu. To them, converting Muslims and Christians to Hinduism is simply returning them to their original faith.
Several local state governments have passed and enforced anti-conversion laws that prohibits Christians from trying to convert Hindus or engaging any behavior that may be perceived as attempted conversion. Hindu extremists argue that these laws protect the majority religion from the minority religion — India is 80% Hindu and 2.3% Christian. Violation of anti-conversion laws is punishable with fines and up to 10 years in prison in some states. A few Indian politicians have advocated for national anti-conversion legislation.
The perception that Christians force Hindus to convert has given pretext for attacks by Hindu extremists on churches, prayer meetings, and Christian schools. In 2021, these attacks became more frequent, with around 300 reports of violence against Christians, as of October. Police rarely hold the perpetrators of these attacks accountable.
Persecution in India is expected to intensify in 2022, according to Release International, as Hindu extremism continues to rise.
Image: “Christians hold signs as they march on the streets of Abuja praying for peace and security in Nigeria on March 1. KOLA SULAIMON/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES”
Acquired from an article by Foreign Policy titled “Christian Victims Fear Future Attacks.”