A Pakistani Christian woman attends a mass on Christmas day
in Lahore. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
About 100 million Christians are persecuted around the
world, with conditions worsening for them most rapidly in Syria
and Ethiopia, according to an annual report by a group
supporting oppressed Christians worldwide.
Open Doors, a non-denominational Christian group, listed
North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan as the three
toughest countries for Christians last year. They topped the
50-country ranking for 2011 as well.
Syria jumped from 36th to 11th place on the list as its
Christian minority, first suspected by rebels of close ties
to the Assad government, has increasingly become a target for
radical Islamist fighters, the report said.
Ethiopia, which is two-thirds Christian, shot up from 38th to
15th place in the ranking due to a "complex mix of
persecution dynamics" including attacks by radical Islamists
and reprisals by traditional Christians against new
Mali came from no listing for 2011 to 7th place because the
sharia rule the Islamist Ansar Dine group imposed on the
north of the country not only brought harsh punishments for
the Muslim majority but also drove the tiny Christian
minority, it said.
"There are over 65 countries where Christians are
persecuted," said the report released on Tuesday by Open
Doors, which began in the 1950s smuggling Bibles into
communist states and now works in more than 60 countries.
"An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide are
persecuted," the United States-based group said in the
report. All but one of the 50 countries in the list -
Colombia, which ranked 46th - were in Africa, Asia or the
Christianity is the largest and most widely spread faith in
the world, with 2.2 billion followers or 32 percent of the
world population, according to a report by the
Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
It faces restrictions and hostility in 111 countries around
the world, ahead of the 90 countries limiting or harassing
the second-largest faith, Islam, another Pew report said.
"In recent years, we've been hearing that Christianity is the
most persecuted religion in the world - that sounds right to
us," said Open Doors France director Michel Varton at a
presentation of the report in Strasbourg.
Leaders of various denominations - including Pope Benedict,
whose Roman Catholic followers account for more than half of
all Christians - increasingly make this accusation.
It may well be the case given Christianity's size and global
spread, but it is hard to produce enough reliable comparative
statistics to give it a solid empirical basis.
Some German politicians and human rights groups criticised
Chancellor Angela Merkel last November for saying this at a
Protestant Church conference there, saying it was pointless
to try to rank religions according to how persecuted they
Open Doors, which documents cases of persecution of
Christians, said its report was based on official studies,
news reports and field reports and questionnaires filled out
by its staff workers around the world.
Of the top 10 countries on the list - North Korea, Saudi
Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran,
Yemen and Eritrea - eight are majority Muslim states
threatened by what Open Doors called "Islamic extremism".
North Korea has kept its number one ranking for the past 11
years because it is illegal simply to be a Christian there,
it said. Open Doors estimates that up to 70,000 North Koreans
have been sent to labour camps for their faith.
The report said second-placed Saudi Arabia, which bans public
practice of any faith but Islam, has a growing Christian
population because of its migrant workers and some converts
it says converted after watching Christian satellite
"Christians risk further persecution and oppression in the
future due to the rising number of converts and their
boldness in sharing their faith," it said.