World Watch List A comprehensive list of the top 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe Thu, 11 Dec 2014 20:15:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 2014 World Watch List Tue, 07 Jan 2014 17:11:07 +0000 0 Worst Year Thu, 07 Nov 2013 18:33:44 +0000 0 Help Egypt Now! Fri, 30 Aug 2013 17:41:38 +0000 0 lightbox Fri, 26 Jul 2013 16:30:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

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555 Challenge 19 – Turkmenistan Tue, 14 May 2013 15:13:03 +0000 0 2013 Summer Offensive Mon, 25 Mar 2013 18:43:39 +0000 0 Hope in Mali rises with international military intervention Tue, 15 Jan 2013 10:52:23 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Hunted down in North, Christians fear Islamist advance on South

London, January 15 (World Watch Monitor) —
French troops have launched a military operation in Mali, aiming at stopping the advance of Islamists from their bases in the north to the South.
The French intervention started on Friday, Jan. 11 with air strikes, and had enabled the Malian troops to regain control of the cental town of Konna, occupied by Islamists the day before.
Since then, French warplanes have been bombing Islamists’ positions in Timbuktu, Gao and elsewhere in the North.
More than half of Mali has been controlled by rebel groups, some with links to al-Qaeda, since April 2012.
The French military intervention has been widely welcomed by Malians. In Bamako, the capital, residents have been expressing their joy, and are praising France for its support. The military action has raised hopes of liberating the North from the Islamists’ occupation.
Until recently Mali has been a typical West African state with a mostly moderate form of Islam. It is constitutionally secular, and political parties with religious connotations are banned, though a high percentage of the population is Muslim. The cohabitation with the religious minorities, mostly Christians and animists, had been peaceful .
Christians had enjoyed widespread freedoms in Malian society, including foreign Christian missionaries, who also were in the North. But situation dramatically changed with the 2012 capture of the northern part of the country by Tuareg separatist rebels and Islamist fighters.
The insurgents soon established an Islamic state in the North, with a strict regime of Sharia, or Islamic law. They attacked and destroyed churches and other Christian buildings in Timbuktu and Gao, with the aim of eradicating all traces of Christianity in the region.
They also were very hard on less fundamentalist Muslims, killing people, amputating limbs and destroying Sufi Muslim sanctuaries.
The harsh conditions prompted thousands to flee. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, more than 250,000 Malians currently live in neighbouring countries like Niger, Burkina Faso or Mauritania, and about 200,000 others have fled to Bamako.
The rapid Islamist takeover of the North pushed Mali into the No. 7 position on the 2013 World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries where conditions for Christians are most oppressive. It is published annually by Open Doors International, a ministry to persecuted Christians. Mali had never before been included in the list.
Among other initiatives, a crisis committee has been set up by a group of churches and missions in Bamako, to help an estimated minimum of 330 Christian refugee families who’ve fled there from the North. It’s helping refugees with food, shelter and medical care, as well as long-term educational and vocational support.
Many of the displaced Christians living in Bamako are anxious because they don’t know whether some of their family members are alive or dead.
“I gave my life to Christ two years ago but all members of my family are Muslims, which is why my wife and daughter despise me,” said Mohamed Habi, a refugee. “When the Islamists captured Timbuktu and began their search for Christians to kill, I escaped to Mauritania. From Mauritania I went to Bamako to be with fellow Christians.”
French military strikes have paved the way for the deployment of an international military mission.
Many West African countries have announced their intention to send troops to Mali. More than 3,000 troops are expected in the following days, as part of the Military Mission for the Stabilization of Mali, backed by the UN, with logistical support from some Western countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.
But the fight for the control of northern Mali will not be an easy task, French military experts are warning.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France’s campaign in Mali is “developing favourably”. But he admitted that the situation is “difficult” and the Islamist fighters are well-armed.
According to an analyst, if the international forces fail to drive away the Islamists from northern Mali, there will be no hope rebuilding a Christian presence in the North again. The church in the South, too, is wary of the rising influence of Islam in Malian politics.
World Watch Monitor

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Colombia: Murdered evangelist’s widow also killed after threats Thu, 10 Jan 2013 17:27:43 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 3 orphaned by ELN guerrillas’ actions, death threats continue

, January 9 (World Watch Monitor) —
Four months after guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) sent a murdered evangelist’s wife their first demand to abandon her home in northeast Colombia’s volatile Arauca department, the militants made good on their threats, report sources close to Open Doors, a ministry to persecuted Christians.
On Monday, Jan 7th 2013, as the family’s pastor finished an evening devotional in the home of widow Alicia Castilla, assassins entered the home and opened fire on her with pistols, killing her instantly in front of her three children and her father.
An Open Doors worker who cannot be named for security reasons told World Watch Monitor that before leaving the home, the guerrillas told Castilla’s son, 18-year-old Hernán, that the rest of the family had three days to leave the region. After that, the killers warned, they would return and one by one kill other family members.
Castilla’s death follows the murder of her husband, lay evangelist Nelson Ramos, two years before, in January 2011, also at the hands of the ELN. The armed rebel group holds a virtual sway of terror over the area.
Ramos, who had come to faith in Christ two years before his death, often shared the gospel in Saravena, a border town near Colombia’s frontier with Venezuela. A few months after his conversion, the ELN issued its first expulsion order against him and his family.
“When Nelson preached, people were attracted to the gospel,” the Open Doors worker said. “He was always talking about Christ.”
Hernán Ramos, the couple’s son, told the Open Doors worker that, beyond denouncing his father for preaching, the guerrillas never fully explained why they so adamantly wanted to drive out the family. After he had received threats during 2010, guerrillas entered the family’s home and shot the elder Ramos as his wife and two small daughters watched.
In the months following Ramos’ death, Castilla feared that her son would carry out his stated plans to avenge the death of his father. But at a July 2011 encounter ministering to children in the persecuted church who have lost one or both parents (held by the ministry), Hernán renounced his earlier vow to join the Colombian military to gain training in weaponry and avenge his father’s murder. Instead he was baptized and became deeply involved in church activities.
Castilla, in her mid 40s, joined an Open Doors group that supports widowed victims of persecution. The group began in Arauca in 2010 and today includes 30 families across Colombia. The Open Doors worker last saw Castilla on Dec 21, in Saravena at a ministry workshop where Hernán restated his commitment to not avenge his father’s death.
While she was away attending the workshop, guerrillas visited Castilla’s house with a third warning to leave. Castilla was willing to move, but her elderly father was not.
“She was always bearing witness about forgiveness and living in peace,” the Open Doors worker said. “Alicia was a woman who was very committed to God, but from the start she was very worried about the threats.”
Although local government authorities are mandated to remove murder victims from crime scenes, they refused to handle Castilla’s body, fearing reprisals from the ELN insurgents. Finally funeral home workers retrieved her body.
“The local authorities understand who the guerrillas consider their enemy, and they prefer not to visit certain places,” the Open Doors worker said.
Founded in 1964, the ELN is one of several illegal armed groups fighting for control of the rich petroleum resources in this area along Colombia’s eastern-central border with Venezuela.
The violent groups use the Arauca department as a narcotrafficking route, forcibly recruit children into their ranks, and persecute those who oppose them, namely the church. A culture of death governs the region amid an atmosphere of fear and revenge.
“The ELN believe that Christians are brainwashed with the Bible, and that they will never support their revolution,” the Open Doors worker said. The militants are also suspicious that Christians are spies and informants for the government, and complain that they give funds to their churches and refuse to support rebel activities.
“They also notice that when Christians fast and pray, the guerrillas’ violent plans against them are oddly stopped!”
“We must pray that Hernán’s heart and decisions don’t change, that everything be transformed into blessing and not a chain of blood and hate,” the Open Doors coordinator for Arauca said. “We pray for his protection, and also for his little sisters Rosmy and Jackeline, ages 9 and 6, who now face life without either one of their parents.”

World Watch Monitor

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Africa rises on World Watch List of worst persecutors Tue, 08 Jan 2013 22:16:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Arab Spring empowers militant Islamist movements

Washington, D.C., January 8 (World Watch Monitor) —
Africa, where Christianity spread fastest during the past century, now is the region where oppression of Christians is spreading fastest, a new report says.
The two-year-old Arab Spring has toppled autocrats across Northern Africa, but it also has energized militant Islamist movements that have killed hundreds of Christians and endanger thousands more, according to the annual World Watch List, released Tuesday. The list, published by Open Doors International, a ministry to persecuted Christians, ranks the 50 countries it considers to be most hostile to believers during the year that ended Oct. 31. The countries on the list are home to about a quarter of the world’s 2.2 billion believers.
For the 11th straight year, North Korea tops the list, and Open Doors says it figures to stay there as long as its combination of “communist oppression” and “dictatorial paranoia” remains in place. The ministry estimates between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians live in the country, where they face arrest, torture and even execution if exposed. It is the only country where the list says “absolute persecution” reigns.

Interactive map of World Watch List countires. Darker red equals more severe persecution. Zoom out to see all 50 countires. Click on individual countries for details.

But down the list, the story is Africa.
Mali, a west-African country never before included in World Watch List, was No. 7 in the 2013 rankings. Predominantly Muslim, Mali had long accommodated Christians peacefully until March 2012 when groups linked to al-Qaida seized power in the northern half of the country and imposed a regime based on sharia, or Islamic law. Open Doors said its contacts in the country reported that most Christians fled the north, abandoning homes and churches that later were confiscated or destroyed.
“If you stayed, you were killed,” said Ronald Boyd-MacMIllan, who directs Open Doors strategy and research. “All the churches were closed. There were house-to-house searches. It was pretty clear they were looking for Christians to kill.”
Two other African nations, Somalia and Eritrea, are included among the World Watch List top 10. In all, 18 African countries are included on the list of 50 nations. Five are ranked closer to the top than they were in 2012. Five others — Mali, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Niger — are on the list for the first time.
The addition of new African countries, and the ascension of several already on the list, can be traced to Islamist parties gaining power in places where regimes had fallen, or where a hard-line, Wahabi version of Islam made inroads against more tolerant, Sufi forms, according to Open Doors. In some cases it was linked with gradual expansion of Islamist influences in local governments or societies; or plain terrorist violence; or a combination.
The trend isn’t confined to Africa. In Syria, rebel forces ignited by the Arab Spring in early 2011 already considered Christians as aligned with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Christians fled Homs, the city where many were concentrated, and the 2012 arrival of foreign jihadists only intensified the pressure on those who remained in the country. Result: Syria made the biggest jump up the World Watch List, from No. 36 to No. 11.
One country that didn’t move up on the list was Egypt, even though Islamist political parties have made deep inroads there as well. They won the presidency in 2012 and produced enough votes to pass a constitution built partly on the principles of Islam. Yet about one of every nine Egyptians is Christian, and at about 10 million, they comprise the largest Christian community in the Arab world. The new constitution, nearly unanimously opposed by Christians and liberal allies, was approved by voters in December, and its effect on Christian life has yet to be seen.
Various private and government agencies monitor persecution, but Open Doors claims its World Watch List is the only annual survey of Christian religious liberty around the world. Based on a mix of face-to-face interviews with underground Christians, surveys of church leaders, opinions of Open Doors field workers and external experts, and review of publicly available data, it claims to measure “the degree of freedom of a Christian to live out their faith in five spheres of life: private, family, community, congregation and national life.”
It also measures the degree of violence experienced by Christians, a category that thrust Nigeria to No. 13. Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria was ranked No. 27 as recently as 2010, but has ascended partly because it has become, by the World Watch List measure, the most violent place on Earth for Christians.
The militant Islamic group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for numerous mass killings of Christians and other Nigerians in an attempt to impose an Islamic system over Nigeria’s north. Two churches in northeastern Nigeria were attacked on Christmas Day, leaving eight worshippers dead. Authorities openly suspect Boko Haram.
Taken as a whole, Boyd-MacMillan said, the 2013 list describes a world where persecution of Christians has intensified overall, mostly because of the rise of militant sectarian movements, not only in Africa but in some of the world’s most populous countries, such as India, where Open Doors says Hindu extremists routinely assault Christian worshippers.
Other monitors of reglious freedom have documented a similar global pattern. A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center Forum on Religion & Public Life concluded that government restrictions on religion rose worldwide during the year. Sub-Saharan Africa was one of three regions where the report said both government restrictions and social hostilities toward religion increased. The Pew forum is concerned with all religions, not only Christianity.
“Our study found, for instance, that in Nigeria, violence between Christian and Muslim communities, including a series of deadly attacks, escalated throughout the period,” said Brian Grim, senior researcher and director of cross-national data for the Pew forum.
Even so, the World Watch List did detect a decline in persecution in some areas.
China fell furthest in the rankings, down 16 spots to No. 37. Its Christian population is growing faster than anywhere, and the government’s direct suppression of the Mao era has evolved into a wary watchfulness, according to Open Doors.
“There does seem to be the possibility of greater rapprochement,” Boyd-MacMillan said, as Communist Party leaders begin to regard the church’s ability to moderate social tensions as an asset during and age of rapid economic and societal change.

Go deeper

2013 World Watch List

In-depth report
Brief country-by-country analyses

Global persecution trends in 2012

World Watch List methodology

World Watch Monitor

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