FAQs about the World Watch List

How is the WWL compiled?

The World Watch Research (WWR) team distinguishes two main expressions of persecution: squeeze (the pressure Christians experience in all areas of life) and smash (plain violence). While smash can be measured and tracked through incidents of violence, squeeze needs to be tracked by discerning how Christian life and witness is being squeezed in different areas of life. Different persecution engines and drivers become identifiable from the answers to country questionnaires covering the reporting period 1 October – 30 September (for 2020). A final score is calculated for each country which is then used to determine the order of countries from position 1 to 50 on the annual WWL.

What are persecution type?

There are different types of Persecution engine, each displaying their own brand of hostility towards Christians. WWL lists nine such persecution engines.

1. Islamic oppression

This engine describes the persecution situation where countries, communities and households are being forced under Islamic control. This can be done gradually by a process of systematic Islamization (building up pressure) or suddenly by the use of militant force (violence) or by both together.

2. Religious nationalism

This engine describes the persecution situation where countries, communities or households are being forced under the control of one particular religion. This religion can be Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism or some other. The process can be gradual and systematic (via a building-up of pressure) or abrupt (through violence). Often it is the combination of both that increasingly makes life for Christians in the country difficult.

3. Clan oppression

This engine describes the persecution situation where a clan or extended family enforces the continuing influence of age-old norms and values or traditional belief systems. The‘mechanics’of this engine is comparable to Islamic oppression and Religious nationalism – there often is a combination of a gradual building up of pressure and incidental outright violence.

4. Ethno-religious hostility

This engine describes the persecution situation where one ethnic group subjects another ethnic group to hostilities because that group has a different religion. This engine expresses itself mostly tough not exclusively through a multitude of violent confrontations. This can go as far as pushing for religious cleaning meaning that the aggressor is trying to eradicate the presence of the victimized group by all means.

5. Christian denominational protectionism

This engine describes the situation where fellow Christians are being persecuted by one church denomination to make sure it remains the only legitimate or dominant expression of Christianity in the country. This engine is comparable to the other engines that are related to religious expressions: It is characterized by a combination of subtle pressure and outright violence, although in practice the balance is often towards non-violence.

6. Communist and post-Communist oppression

This engine describes the situation where Christians are being persecuted and churches controlled by a state system that derives from Communist values. Key for controlling churches is a rigid system of state registration and monitoring. This system may still be in use in countries after the fall of Communism, as is the case in Central Asia. Although the engine relies on a combination of pressure and violence, the violence is often not particularly visible because the system has a total and tight hold on the church.

7. Secular intolerance

This engine describes the situation where Christian faith is being forced out of the public domain, if possible even out of the hearts of people. Its drivers seek to transform societies into the mold of a new, radically secularist ethic. This new ethic is (partly) related to a radically new sexual agenda, with norms and values about sexuality, marriage and related issues that are alien to, and resisted by the Christian worldview. When Christian individuals or institutions try to resist this new ethic, they are opposed by (i) non-discrimination legislation, (ii) attacks on parental rights in the area of education, (iii) the censorship of the Cross and other religious symbols from the public square, (iv) the use of various manifestations of “hate-speech” laws to limit the freedom of expression, and (v) church registration laws. Most of this is not violent, although both pastors and other Christians have been arrested at times. 

8. Dictatorial paranoia

This engine describes the persecution situation where an authoritarian government at different levels of society, assisted by social stakeholder groups, does all it can to maintain power. There is no special focus on realizing an ideological vision; it seems lust for power and the benefits it brings with it are decisive.

9. Organized corruption and crime

This engine describes the persecution situation where groups or individuals are creating a climate of impunity, anarchy and corruption as a means for self-enrichment. It has two main ‘branches’: (i) corruption within state structures and (ii) corruption of society by organized crime. This engine expresses itself through a combination of systematic pressure caused by the fear of possible violent repercussions in the case of non-compliance, and by such violence being carried out.

What are the "Spheres of life" used for the WWL scoring and what sort of pressure is being measured?

A ‘five spheres concept’ has been developed to track the various expressions of persecution in the different areas of a Christian’s life.

Private life: How free has a Christian been to relate to God one-on-one in his/her own space?
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with conversion, private worship, possession of religious material, freedom of expression, e.g. in spoken word and writing, through images and symbols, access to information and media, privately sharing a belief with others, freedom of private assembly, and isolation of Christians.

Family life: How free has a Christian been to live his/her Christian convictions within the circle of the family, and how free have Christian families been to conduct their family life in a Christian way?
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with the forced allocation of religious identity, registration of civil affairs, weddings, baptisms, burials, adoptions, child rearing, indoctrination of children, harassment of or discrimination against children, separation of families, isolation of converts, pressure to divorce, custody of children, and inheritance rights.

Community life: How free have Christians been individually and collectively to live their Christian convictions within the local community (beyond church life), and how much pressure has the community put on Christians by acts of discrimination, harassment or any other form of persecution? 
The questions in the WWL questionnaire deal with threat or obstruction to daily life, dress codes, monitoring of Christians, abduction and forced marriage, access to community resources, community ceremonies, participation in communal institutions and forums, pressure to renounce faith, access to health care, access to and disadvantages in education, discrimination in employment and obstruction in business, and policing issues (fines, interrogations, forced reporting).

National life: How free have Christians been individually and collectively to live their Christian convictions beyond their local community, and how much pressure has the legal system put on Christians, and how much pressure have agents of supra-local national life put on Christians by acts of misinformation, discrimination, harassment or any other form of persecution?
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with national ideology, constitution, registration of religion in IDs, conscientious objection, travel within a country and abroad, discrimination by authorities, barring from public office or professional progress, policy interference with businesses, expression of opinion in public, Christian civil society organizations and political parties, reporting about religious or social conflicts, smear campaigns, toleration of public disrespect, religious symbols, blasphemy accusations, impunity, equal treatment in court, monitoring of trials.

Church life: How have restrictions, discrimination, harassment or other forms of persecution infringed upon these rights and this collective life of Christian churches, organizations and institutions?
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with the hindrance in gathering of Christians, registration of churches, monitoring or closing of unregistered churches, church building and renovation, expropriation and non-return, disturbance or disruption of services, prevention of activities inside or outside churches or among youth, acceptance of converts, monitoring of preaching and published materials, election and training of leaders, harassment of leaders or their families, Bibles and other religious materials and their printing, importing, selling or dissemination, and confiscation, broadcasting and Internet use, interference with ethical convictions (regarding family and marriage) and personnel policy of Christian institutions, Christian civil society organizations and social activities, interaction with the global Church, and the denouncing of persecution by government or social actors.

Is Christianity the most persecuted religion in the world?

Yes, research confirms this clearly. Many say Christianity is the most persecuted religion simply because it is the largest religion in the world. However, when you look at the numbers of Christians compared to the total populations of the countries in which they are persecuted, these are often countries with minority Christian populations.

What do the violence figures show us?

In WWL 2021 reporting period, the devastating impact of persecution resulted in…

  • 4,761 Christians killed for their faith
  • 4,488 Churches or Christian buildings attacked
  • 4,277 Christians unjustly arrested, detained or imprisoned
  • 1,710 Christians abducted for faith-related reasons

*The total number of Christians killed for their faith rose from 2,983 registered cases (WWL 2020) to 4,761 (WWL 2021). This is an increase of 60 percent. The violent killing of Christians for faith-related reasons was much higher in Africa than in Asia. Ninety-one percent of the killings were in Africa, and 8 percent in Asia.

On average, every day…

  • 13 Christians are killed for their faith
  • 12 churches or Christians buildings are attacked
  • 12 Christians are unjustly arrested, detained or imprisoned
  • 5 Christians are abducted for faith-related reasons
How many Christians are persecuted because of their faith?

More than 340m Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith. In Open Doors’ World Watch List top 50 alone, 309m Christians face very high or extreme levels.

1/8 – Overall, 74 countries showed extreme, very high or high levels of persecution, affecting at least 1 of every 8 Christians worldwide. 

How is the recent trend of Christian persecution?
Why does the world watch list matter?

The World Watch List ranks the top 50 most dangerous places to be a Christian. But why does it matter? 

Please read “5 Reasons Why You Should Care About The World Watch List”