The unjust detention of Christians, including wrongful arrest and kidnapping, is "one of the most prevalent, enduring and serious forms of persecution today", research by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has found.
In 'Set Your Captives Free', its annual report into persecution launched on Wednesday, the charity said that millions of Christians worldwide were living at constant risk of being abducted, with women facing the double threat of rape and other forms of sexual violence.
The report quotes research from Open Doors which found that every month, in the 50 worst countries for persecution, an average of 309 Christians are unjustly imprisoned, while in 2019 an estimated 1,052 Christians were abducted.
In Pakistan, ACN warns of a "surge" in the abduction of under-age Christian and other minority faith girls, like Maira Shahbaz, 14, who was last year kidnapped at gunpoint, forced to renounce her Christian faith and marry a Muslim man, and was filmed while being raped. She managed to escape but is now in hiding with her family because of death threats.
In the foreward to the report, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent years on death row for blasphemy before being exonerated, said girls like Shahbaz were "easy targets".
"Their Christian faith makes them nobodies in society," she said.
"The courts will not side with them. Indeed, nobody in our faith community can have their safety guaranteed."
She added that there were "countless others" in her country who were unjustly detained and that she was committed to standing up for them.
"During my darkest moments, I promised that if I should survive my ordeal – a cross I bore for years on end – I would stand up for those who suffer, as I did," she said.
She called for action from the international community to end the wrongful detention of Christians.
"One thing that so many of the people featured in this report have in common is that they are forced to suffer in silence," she said.
"It is time that the world hears these stories; it is time to speak truth to power. It is time that those who detain innocent people in defiance of the law are brought to justice.
"It is time for governments to act. It is time to rally in support of our faithful communities, vulnerable, poor and
persecuted. We should not rest until the oppressor finally hears our cry: 'Set your captives free.'"