The 10 Worst Places to be a Christian | Sarah Stook
Every year, Christian persecution charity Open Doors ranks the worst places in the world to be a member of the faith.
Here we’ll discuss entries 10-1 and why it’s so hard to be a Christian there. The comprehensive list with all entries can be found here.
10. India, South Asia
A country with over one billion residents, India had sadly climbed much higher in the rankings over the past few years. The main cause of this is Hindu nationalism, brought into prominence when current Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though other religions exist in India, Hindu is the most followed religion and its hardliners believe that it is the only acceptable one. In the past year, attacks have included a church being pulled down and a Christian man killed after being accused of killing an ox.
Churches are the main point of contention, with arson and attacks common against places of worship. The explanation is simple- the church is the face of Christanity, in a way other holy places are for different faiths. In a similar way to how the Dalits (the untouchable underclass) are treated, Christians are seen as less than human and are therefore deserving of hatred because they are not Hindu. Whilst Muslims and Christians generally co-exist in India due to mutual persecution, there have been cases of hostility between the two groups, such as the killing of a Christian convert by Islamic fundamentalists in 2006.
Two of the most horrific attacks have occurred in the past couple of decades. In 1999, missionary Graham Staines was asleep in his car along with his two sons, boys of ten and six. A mob had accused them of forced conversions and surrounded the vehicle. They attacked it and when the family attempted to get out upon waking, they were burned alive. The mother and sister of the family were thankfully not there as they decided against joining the men, so must live with the consequences.
The second was in 2015. A Catholic school was intimidated by death threats and that escalated when the place was robbed. A nun was in the building at the time, a woman of 71, and was gang raped by eight men. India has a huge problem with rape and misogyny, but the rape of an elderly nun is abhorrent even by their standards. It’s clear it’s an unsafe place to be.
9. Iran, Middle East
Christians pre-date other religions in Iran by many years, but have faced prosecution since. Iran is governed by Sharia law and apostasy (conversion from Islam) has the death penalty attacked for me, and life for women. The government technically grants Christians certain rights such as reserved seats in Parliament, but oppression is severe.
Since apostasy isn’t technically on the books, Iran uses different charges to persecute Christians, such as national security concerns. Christianity is believed to be on the rise there, but it’s very difficult to verify numbers due to the fear faced by adherents. Bail amounts are higher for Christians than from Muslims. Another ‘clever’ trick is to accuse women in churches of mixing with unrelated men- a cause that can get them killed in the deeply conservative country.
Though there have been improvements, such as the appointment of a Christian captain for the national football team, the government continues to suppress Christians.
8. Yemen, Middle East
Yemen is in crisis. There is mass starvation, illness and murder in the troubled nation. Christians are vunerable in both the same and different ways to their Muslim counterparts.Though the Yemeni constitution allows freedom of religion, Islam is still the state religion. It is difficult to know exactly how many Christians are in Yemen, but it’s thought that most are foreign nationals staying there temporarily.
Apostasy and blasphemy are capital offenses in Yemen, which can be used against converts and those who help them. The current crisis in the country has seen radical Islamists take over, further putting Christians into jeopardy. Aid also comes through mosques and Islamic organisations, allowing them to discriminate against non-Muslims.
One horrendous attack occurred in Aden in 2016. Two gunmen randomly killed 16 residents in a missionary-run home for the elderly, including four nuns. Indian priest Tom Uzhunnalil was kidnapped and held by ISIS affiliates for a year and a half, only being released with the help of Oman’s Sultan.
7. Sudan, Northeast Africa
In 2011, South Sudan came into being, bringing the majority of Sudanese Christians along with it. Those who remained in Sudan faced persecution, exacerbated by ethnic tensions. Sudanese Christians tend to be Africans, whereas Arabs tend to be Muslims- and those Africans certainly are discriminated against. Government officials are often instigators of violence.
The people of the Nuba Mountain region are particularly in danger and the area has seen vast international attention.
Since the report came out, there have been very positive developments. Sudan has declared itself a secular state, with laws against apostasy being repealed and the practice of FGM outlawed. Hopefully this means Sudan will be lower down on the list next year.
6. Eritrea, North-Eastern Africa
One of the world’s last communist outposts, Eritrea is a fascinating if sad case- a one party dictatorship that has never had an election and has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Eritrean people are forced into conscription that can often last for the rest of their lives. What makes Eritrea so different to others on this list is that it is majority Christian.
Eritrea has state-allowed denominational groups, with Christians allowed to be part of the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church. Muslims are permitted to be part of Sunni Islam and nothing else. The Orthodox Church is given the most power, so even those in registered groups face attacks. In terms of Christianity, Protestants are the most at risk, with entire families being locked in shipping containers and tortured.
Last year, Vatican News reported that 150 arrests had been made. Christian prisoners are held in underground tunnels they’re forced to dig and told to renounce their faith in front of a judge. Catholic-run hospitals have been shut down, as Eritrea only allows state-run healthcare.
5. Pakistan, South Asia
Christians in Pakistan saw a large decrease in their status in the 80s and 90s, when extremism became more prominent in public life. In political life, they cannot become President, Prime Minister or sit on Pakistan’s highest court. In general life, they are seen as the underclass and are predominantly lower-class bonded labourers.
Though there have been no major attacks over the past year, smaller ones have occured. In the past few years, there have been several horrific anti-Christian crimes. A 2013 suicide bombing in a church left over 100 dead. In 2017, militants attacked a playground filled with children and families celebrating Easter, killing around 75 people.
Individuals are at deep risk, as seen in the following three cases:
In 2010, Christian Asia Bibi drank from a cup when asked to fetch water. A neighbour who had a dispute with her family argued with her about this, calling her unclean and insulting Christianity. When Bibi argued back, a mob came to beat her before the police arrived to take her away. After being accused of blasphemy, Bibi was sentenced to hang and held in solitary confinement. Her family was forced into hiding. After years of appeals, Bibi was freed, but was unable to leave the country for a certain amount of time. She was eventually allowed to flee to Canada for permanent asylum with her family.
In 2014, a mentally challenged, illiterate teenager called Rimsha Masih was accused of burning pages of the Quran when getting rid of rubbish. It was eventually discovered that a local imam had planted the pages there, having desecrated them himself. Masih was acquitted and her family took asylum in Canada. The imam was later also freed.
Christian girls are often kidnapped, raped, forcibly married and converted. These girls, if they escape, are often turned back to their captors due to stringent anti-Christian and anti-women views. If a person ‘converts’to Islam, it is seen as sure, and they would not be allowed to convert back. This year, a thirteen year old Christian girl was kidnapped, forcibly converted and married off to a much older man who was already married with children. When she escaped to court, the judges ruled she was over 18 and hasd willingly chosen Islam, forcing her back into the care of her captors. She attempted to reach her parents in the courtroom, but was held back. Luckily, this girl managed to get another judge to overturn the case, but many victims are not so lucky.
4. Libya, Northern Africa
The Arab Spring and death of long-time dictator, as well as some poor intervention and planning, has left Libya in a state of utter chaos, so much so that slaves are being openly sold. It is this chaos and utter lack of stability that has landed Libya so high on the list.
The rise of Islamism and Islamic State in the area has been utterly devastating for all Libyans, Christians included. Whilst migrant workers may practice in private, churches are banned and any open display of faith is essentially a death sentence. Areas like Tripoli and Sirte are still under fundamentalist control.
Christians in detention centres are singled out for beating and rape and also join other faiths in being openly sold as slaves.
3. Somalia, Horn of Africa
The second highest entry on the Fragile States Index of 2020 (after Yemen), Somalia is a lawless society. Its capital, Mogadishu, is one of the most dangerous in the world- the UN bases most of its Somali operations next door in Kenya. Even before Somali descended into chaos, Christians were in trouble.
There are believed to be only around 1000 Christians in Somalia, though tests cannot be conducted properly. Only one church exists, the Mogadishu Cathedral, but that has been out of use since 2013. Sharia law was implemented in 2009 and Christmas banned in 2015. Al-Shabaab continues to fight all those who oppose it, especially Christians.
2. Afghanistan, Central Asia
A country that has suffered greatly ever since the 1979 Soviet invasion, Afghanistan is one of the very worst places to be a Christian. Whilst the law allows non-Islamic religions, they must not interfere with Islamic life- and many Afghans believe that they do. Apostasy carries the death penalty. The Taliban, still active in Afghanistan, punish Christians as much as the government does.
Abdul Rahman is a famous example. After converting to Catholicism, he fled to Germany but was sent back to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. Rahman was divorced by his wife and not allowed to see his daughters. His parents disowned him and reported him to the authorities. Though he was later freed after being threatened with the death penalty, this angered conservative mullahs and the public. Rahman was given asylum in Italy.
The only permitted church is in the Italian embassy.
1. North Korea, East Asia
Though North Korea has made a show of being more tolerant to Christianity, it’s still the worst place to be a Christian. State allowed churches exist, but these are usually pulled out for visitors from foreign nations. Owning a Bible is illegal and one may not bring one into the country.
This is simply because the ruling Kim dynasty wants to be worshipped as the only true gods, with Christianity and other religions getting in the way of that. A recent report highlighted what Christians go through when they are discovered- forced abortions, infanticide, beatings and sleep deprivation being common, as well as the death penalty.
We may not know as much about North Korea and its Christian population due to the sheer secrecy of the mysterious hermit dictatorship. It is doubtful, if not impossible, that the situation will ever improve for Christian people there.
With credit to Open Door USA for its data and research.