Failing states lead to increased persecution of Christians

Open Doors 2014 World Watch List shows militant Islamic pressure has filled state void

Fragile or failed states where militant Islamic movements flourish are some of the hardest places for Christians to live, shows annual report on Christian religious freedom. 

Pressure on Christians intensified in a number of countries in 2013.  The situation deteriorated most rapidly across northern Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf, in countries where sectarian violence has advanced unchecked by impotent central governments. 

The findings are contained in the Open Doors 2014 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries most hostile to believers during the 12-month period ending 31October 2013. Open Doors carries out extensive research globally on five spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church life, plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence.  

Since the first list was published in 2002, the number one spot has been held by North Korea, where exposed Christians face long prison terms or execution.

“It cannot be right that amidst such widespread and ongoing persecution of Christians, many of the international community simply look away,” says Lisa Pearce of Open Doors UK and Ireland. “This shocking research demonstrates how important it is that church and government do more to protect religious liberty, a fundamental human right.” 

Failed States

Among the top 10 on the list are six countries where the government has little or no control:  Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. 

Syria is number three, up from number 11 a year ago. The continuing civil war has afflicted all segments of society, but Christians have paid an especially high price, often at the hands of imported jihadists. In October, Islamist militias killed 46 Christians in Sadad. 

At number eight, Pakistan has a huge number of extremists, because the national government does little to control local politicians who provide room for anti-Christian pressure to grow. In October two suicide bombers killed 96 Christians at a church in Peshawar, believed to be the worst single act of anti-Christian violence since Pakistan was created in 1947. 

The Central African Republic joined the list for the first time at number 16, having spiralled into anarchy since the March overthrow of the government by an Islamist-dominated rebel coalition. In the months since, rebel attacks on Christian villages have killed thousands and driven up to a million people from their homes. The UN peacekeeping force has since struggled to prevent escalation of violence.

Islamic extremism

Of the top 10 countries on the list, all but North Korea are majority Muslim. Continuing a 15-year trend, militant Islam is a growing source of pressure on Christians, and has become the primary driver of persecution in 36 of the 50 countries on the list. 

The result is especially violent in sub-Saharan Africa. Four sub-Saharan countries rank among the 10 most-violent countries for Christians in 2013: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Eritrea, and Sudan.

Somalia, at number two, is the first sub-Saharan nation to rank at the top of the World Watch List. It is largely governed by militia-backed clans, not a central government, and prominent Islamic leaders regularly proclaim there is no place for Christians in the country. 

“In this country, a Christian cannot trust anyone,” said a Somali Christian. “One false confidence and you literally lose your head.”

Rising on the list

Beyond Africa and the Middle East, several Asian countries climbed the list. In India, which rose from number 31 in 2013 to number 28 in the current list, the Hindu nationalist movement behind the Bharatiya Janata Party broadened its reach. 

Two Asian countries not included on the 2013 list are included in 2014. Sri Lanka ranked number 29, due largely to increased violence and the emergence of a Buddhist extremist movement that has targeted Christians and Muslims. Bangladesh is number 48, primarily because of a new Islamist extremist group demanding the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law. 

No country rose further on the World Watch List in 2014 than Colombia, which ranked 46th a year ago and is number 25 on the current list. Open Doors says the higher ranking is due partly to better research methods, and partly to a greater number of reports of violence toward Christians in 2013. 

A common source of violence is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has become more involved in the drug trade and has attacked Christians who oppose the illegal activity.


The Open Doors World Watch List is the only annual global survey of Christian religious freedom. 

The methodology behind the annual list has been audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom, a network of academics around the world that seeks ‘reliable data on the violation of religious freedom worldwide’. 

Dr Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Open Doors International’s Chief Strategy Officer, said, “The World Watch List is more than a set of numbers, it must also be seen as a human document, reflecting millions of sad and also amazing stories of fear and faith.”

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Showing 4 reactions

commented 2014-03-11 15:21:22 +0000 · Flag
thank you for for your contribution
commented 2014-02-18 16:53:37 +0000 · Flag
Hi Keith – thank you so much for your compassion for this and also for asking what more we can do.
This year, at Open Doors, we are having a year of prayer and action for the persecuted church – we really want the world to wake up to the realities of extreme persecution.
There are some things you can do straight away: invite your MP to hear about the reality of Christian persecution in North Korea – the worst place in the world to be a Christian:; tweet the AU and ask them to support a UN Peacekeeping operation in the Central African Republic – a call issued by the church in CAR to stop the crisis in their country:; join us in prayer for North Korea through lent and sign up for 42 daily prayer emails through lent:
God bless, Zoe
commented 2014-02-18 13:11:52 +0000 · Flag
Great article. What can we do to raise the profile of whats going on in these countries? Is their any sort of campaign going on?
followed this page 2014-02-18 13:06:53 +0000