Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 21 April 2021


Christian persecution rises as people refused aid in Covid crisis – report

Advocacy group Open Doors says hardline regimes across world exploit pandemic

Boys peep through the glass of a church in Gauhati, India, at Christmas. Harassment of Christians has increased in the country.
Boys peep through the glass of a church in Gauhati, India, at Christmas. Harassment of Christians has increased in the country. Photograph: Anupam Nath/AP

Last modified on Wed 13 Jan 2021 03.02 GMT

Persecution of Christians around the world has increased during the Covid pandemic, with followers being refused aid in many countries, authoritarian governments stepping up surveillance, and Islamic militants exploiting the crisis, a report says.

More than 340 million Christians – one in eight – face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, according to the 2021 World Watch List compiled by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors.

It says there was a 60% increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths were in Africa.

“The increasing persecution of Christians across the world should disturb us all,” said David Landrum, the head of advocacy for Open Doors UK and Ireland. “Freedom of religion is what underpins many other human rights and civil liberties. Oppressive governments know this, and they are exploiting the pandemic crisis to turn the screw on Christians.”

The World Watch List ranks 50 countries in which Christians face persecution and discrimination, with North Korea in the No 1 spot as it has been for the past 20 years.

China has re-entered the top 20 for the first time in a decade, and India and Turkey have also reported an increase in government authoritarianism and nationalism.

The report says Christians in numerous countries in Africa and Asia have been refused Covid-related aid – at times by government officials, but more often by village heads or committees. In Kaduna, Nigeria, families from several villages reported receiving one-sixth of the rations allocated to Muslim families.

In China, the government has increased surveillance, with facial recognition systems installed in state-approved churches in some areas and online services monitored. The government’s campaign to “sinicise” Christianity has meant crosses and other Christian imagery have been replaced with pictures of President Xi Jinping and national flags, and Communist officials selecting church leaders, the report says.

In India, the Hindu nationalist government has fostered a climate in which attacks and harassment of Christians and Muslims have increased. Foreign funding of Christian-run hospitals, schools and church organisations has been blocked.

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Across sub-Saharan Africa, Christians have faced 30% higher levels of violence than last year at the hands of Islamist militant groups who took advantage of lockdowns and governments weakened by the crisis, the report says. In Nigeria, the number of Christians killed has nearly tripled to 3,800 recorded deaths.

Among positive developments were Sudan’s new constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion and no longer specifying Islam as the state religion; and in northern Iraq, Muslim volunteers have been repairing destroyed churches and homes to encourage Christians to return to the area.

Open Doors has published its World Watch List every year since 2002. It gives countries scores based on violence levels along with persecution in private, family, community, civic and church life.

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