Christian persecution expected to rise in 2023 - report

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"Persecution has been on the increase in recent years. 2023 looks set to continue that trend," a Christian ministry leader has warned.

Paul Robinson, CEO of Release International, said that the next 12 months would be "significant for large swathes of the church across the globe".

Release International's Persecution Trends report highlights the situation for believers in Nigeria, India, China and Iran among other countries.

Nigeria is the place causing most concern because of spiralling violence and increasing calls by Islamist extremists in the north and regional ethnic groups in the south to divide the country.

Christians continue to be targeted in violent attacks in the Middle Belt region but the violence is increasingly spreading into central and southern regions that were once considered to be relatively safe.

Release International estimates the number of Christians killed this year by radicalised Fulani at over 6,000, but deadly attacks are also being carried out by terrorist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa.

With increasing lawlessness, there are fears that Nigeria is becoming another failed state.

"Every indication suggests Nigeria is at a pivotal point in its history," said a Release International partner in the country.

"The election in 2023 will determine whether the nation grows as an entity or disintegrates."

The partner continued, "Kidnapping for ransom has now become the major money earner for terrorist groups, while the numbers of victims of rape and people living with disabilities due to attacks continue to grow among the Christian communities.

"Hundreds of thousands of children in these Christian villages are unable to go to school or access good education."

In India, Christians are being attacked by Hindu nationalists and anti-conversion laws are spreading across more states, leading to fears that it is only a matter of time before a national law is imposed.

Over Christmas there were reports of Hindu extremists chanting 'death to Jesus Christ' and burning effigies of Santa Claus, which is equated with Christianity in India.

In Iran, which has been rocked by protests this year, a Release International partner said there was "no doubt" the government was concerned that "disillusioned Muslims are becoming Christians".

Despite a "wave of persecution" against converts and the threat of lengthy prison sentences, house churches in Iran are growing.

"There is obviously a campaign to stop the spread of Christianity, to arrest those who are leading house churches and engaged in evangelism and teaching," said Release's partner.

Commenting on the report, Mr Robinson said, "The lessons of the early Church and history teach us that persecution concentrates the mind and strengthens resolve. It emboldens and refines the Church.'

Persecution Trends is published in the January 2023 edition of Release International's Voice magazine, which will be available to download here