Increase in persecution across Africa in 2012

The latest World Watch List from Open Doors reveals a dramatic increase in the persecution of Christians in Africa during 2012.

For the first time, Mali has appeared in the top ten countries where Christians are experiencing discrimination because of their faith.

The trend is further reflected by the addition of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Niger to the World Watch List.

Open Doors says that extremists have gained influence across the African continent in the last year.

Parts of Nigeria have been the target of focused attacks by Islamic militant group Boko Haram, while in Mali, ranked seven in the list, violence has escalated since a coup last March.

Open Doors UK chief executive Eddie Lyle said: "Mali used to be a model country. The situation in the north was tense, but Christians and even missionaries could be active. Following the coup Christians have effectively been become 'persona non grata' and can no longer exist in northern states of the country."

Niger was added to the list this year following the violent response to the anti-Islamic film, Innocence of Muslims.

For the eleventh year in a row, North Korea occupies the top spot. In the reclusive communist country, Christians can be executed or sent to a prison camp for owning a Bible.

Eight of the top ten worst persecutors are countries where Islamic extremism is a threat to Christians.

Syria is ranked 11 on the World Watch List this year after an escalation in persecution triggered by the ongoing conflict. Under the Assad regime, Christians were not allowed to evangelise but were allowed to worship freely.

Now, however, Open Doors warns that they are "under attack from all sides", including jihadists entering Syria "with an anti-Christian agenda".

It warns that life for Christians in Syria has become "virtually impossible", with tens of thousands of Christians fleeing the country in recent months.

In China, there are signs of greater accommodation of the Christian faith within government circles. Open Doors reports that house searches, arrests and the confiscation of Bibles and Christian books "rarely occurs".

However, it is concerned that more than a hundred Chinese Christians are still in prison because of their faith.

Ron Boyd-MacMillan, Open Doors Chief Strategy Officer, said: "Islamism has risen in every country that experienced the Arab Spring. This has resulted in massively increased pressure on large parts of the church in the Middle East and North Africa.

"Foreign jihadists now terrorise Christians in war-torn Syria, al‐Qaeda militants occupy northern Mali to make life impossible for local Christians, and even in countries like Libya that made a transition to a form of democracy, radical Islamist factions spread terror with impunity among the Christian minority.

"The trends are not uniformly gloomy however. In the Far East, with the exception of North Korea, the Communist states in Laos, Vietnam and China all marginally improved their treatment of Christians."