Persecution Worldwide | 17-1-2024

World Watch List 2024 Overview


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Islamic militants and autocratic regimes intensify danger for sub-Saharan African Christians
More than 82 per cent of Christians killed across the globe for faith reasons were in Nigeria (ranked 6), according to Open Doors’ World Watch List 2024, which ranks countries by the severity of persecution and discrimination endured by the Christians who live in them.

Faith-related killings in sub-Saharan Africa far outstripped those of any other region on the annual list. This has been a trend for several years.

Intense violence in Ethiopia (32) saw the number of attacks on churches and schools grow sharply. There was a surge upwards in the number of Christian-owned businesses burned, looted, or confiscated in Burkina Faso (20) and Central African Republic (28).

These trends were mirrored elsewhere in Africa and other countries ranked on the annual list as attacks surged globally.

WWL 2024 in numbers

  • 4,998 Christians killed worldwide in faith-related attacks. Figures likely run much higher but many go unreported
  • Seven-fold increase in attacks on churches, Christian schools and hospitals from 2,110 (WWL 2023) to 14,766 (WWL 2024).
  • Christians beaten or threatened increased from 29,411 reported cases (WWL 2023) to 42,849
  • Attacks on homes rose 371 per cent from WWL2023 figures (4,547 to 21,431)
  • Christians forced out of their home or into hiding more than doubled from 124,310 to 278,716
  • 365 million Christians (1 in 7 worldwide) face high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith – up from last year’s figure of 360 million
Sub-Saharan Africa: Twin problems of radical Islam and autocratic regimes bolstered by outsider influence
At least 4,606 Christians were killed because of their faith in 18 out of the 26 countries on the World Watch List that are south of the Sahara Desert. Fifteen of these 26 countries reached the highest level in the score for overall violence.

“The threat from Islamic militants in sub-Saharan Africa has intensified to the point where many Christians in the region feel increasingly fearful,” says Frans Veerman, Managing Director of Open Doors World Watch Research. “Christians are purposefully targeted or extra vulnerable in a continent that is beset by the twin problems of radical Islamic elements and increasingly autocratic regimes. This is the ever-growing threat for Christians south of the Sahara Desert and, if left unchecked, these twin pressures are expected to overwhelm them and force them out of their homes and villages. At least 16.2 million Christians in sub-Saharan Africa were forcibly displaced by violence at the end of 2022.

“Governments in the region need to take meaningful action to address the growing influence of jihadist groups and prioritize protecting the vulnerable from aggressors. Without this action, once thriving Christian communities will disappear.”

Radical Islamic elements exploiting unstable political conditions is a common thread across the African continent. The fractures in governance and security have opened the door for the jihadist activities seen, for example, in Burkina Faso, Mali (14), Mozambique (39), Nigeria and Somalia (2).

Mali and the Wagner Group: When French troops moved out of Mali in 2022 the Wagner group moved onto their bases. Their influence has significantly stifled the civic space for Christians. Speaking out against governmental injustices or the brutalities perpetrated by Wagner has become dangerous. Christians also fear repercussions for being associated with Western opposition to Wagner’s actions. Additionally, the private army has not stopped Islamic militants, traffickers and organised crime syndicates operating with impunity, meaning that Christians in Mali often gather under police protection from such elements.
India (11) – brutal conflict saw violence rise sharply ahead of 2024 elections
There was a substantial rise in the number of Indian Christians killed and the number of churches, and Christian schools and homes attacked during the WWL 2024 reporting period.

The state of Manipur in north-eastern India saw the worst of this in May 2023. What began as a dispute between ethnic groups took on a disturbing religious dimension as Christians were targeted across the ethnic groups. The violence left 160 Christians dead, and thousands chased from their homes to find shelter elsewhere after watching their homes burned down.

India in numbers:
A nine-fold increase in Christian fatalities since WWL 2023: 17 to 160
Extreme rise in attacks on churches and Christian schools from 67 last year to 2,228
The number of Christian homes attacked in the WWL 2022 reporting period was 91. It doubled to 180 the following year. The WWL 2024 figure is 5,900.
Nicaragua (30)
Government in Nicaragua is increasingly hostile to the Church. Nicaragua is jumping 20 places on the list. President Ortega’s government has become more overt in how it represses religious freedom. In February 2023 the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, a vocal defender of civic freedoms, was stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to 26 years in prison.
North Korea (1) holds the number one spot
North Korea once again holds the number one place on the World Watch List. Christians are forced to practice their faith in complete secrecy. Reports of raids rarely reach international media, but one example became known in April 2023 when five Christians gathered in a remote farmhouse in central North Korea for prayer only to find police had been tipped off by an informant and were waiting for them. The five arrested Christians will now face years of hard labour.


Signs of hope

Mali: in June 2023, Malian voters approved a new constitution that could pave the way for the return to civilian rule. In the new constitution there is clear recognition of the Christian minority in the country.

India: The Congress Party dislodged the Hindunationalist BJP in the spring 2023 elections in Karnataka state with a pledge to revise anti-conversion laws. Most anticonversion laws have been introduced state-by-state by Narendra Modi’s BJP government since it became the ruling political party in India in 2014.
How does Open Doors speak up on behalf of persecuted Christians?
Open Doors’ supports Christians by protecting and promoting their right to freely believe, worship, and practice their faith alone or with others, free from intolerance and discrimination. The 2024 World Watch List particularly highlights the plight of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa. Open Doors calls on governments to provide protection from violent aggressors, and ensure justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators.

What is the WWL?
The World Watch List is an annual report published by Open Doors which ranks the countries where it is most difficult to profess and practice the Christian faith. The list is based on levels of violence, the degree of government restrictions, and the amount of social hostility towards Christians and is intended to raise awareness about the persecution of Christians around the world and to encourage people to support those who are suffering. Released at the beginning of each year, the list uses extensive research, data from Open Doors field workers, their in-country networks, external experts and persecution analysts to quantify and analyse persecution worldwide. The methodology is audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. This year’s list covers the period 1 October 2022 – 30 September 2023.

please pray
  • That our persecuted family will be strengthened and encouraged in their faith, and guarded from harm
  • Give thanks for all that God is doing amidst persecution, and pray that this will continue in increasing measure
  • That the Open Doors local partners will continue to be equipped, empowered and encouraged in their work serving our persecuted family.