Nigeria, North Korea, India among worst countries for persecution

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International Christian Concern (ICC) has released its annual report highlighting the 10 nations where Christians suffer the worst persecution for their faith. 

They are Nigeria, North Korea, India, Iran, China, Pakistan, Eritrea, Algeria, Indonesia and Azerbaijan. 

In Nigeria, ICC cites numerous "horrific atrocities" committed against Christians by suspected Muslim terrorists including a deadly attack on a Catholic seminary in Kaduna State in which a young seminarian was killed. 

In dozens of attacks between March 4 and July 6, some 549 Christians were killed according to reports gathered by ICC alone. 

After one attack on a village in Kaduna State in April, a mass burial was held for 33 Christians. 

The report accuses the Nigerian government of turning a blind eye and even "abetting the ongoing genocide".

"Nigeria is a country torn by decades of violence. From large, organized terror groups to small, disconnected communal militias, the violence in Nigeria is endemic," the report says.

"Sitting between the Christian-majority south and the Muslim-majority north, the central Middle Belt region is home to much of the violence.

"There, communities clash over resources, ethnic animosity, and religion every day. Christians experience a disproportionate share of the killings and kidnappings turning the country into a dangerous place to live."

In North Korea, there are an estimated 400,000 Christians but they are forced to practise their faith in secret or else risk imprisonment, torture or even execution.

It is not only those caught who are punished but anyone associated with them, a "nightmare situation" that has made practising Christianity in North Korea "incredibly dangerous" and prompted many to try to flee, even though that too could cost them their lives.

In one harrowing incident, the report says that earlier this year "a two-year-old and the toddler's parents were sentenced to life after a Bible was found in their home".

"Kim Jong Un's regime has consistently been a threat to Christians who, like political dissidents, represent a threat to the stability of the state and the regime. Under the state's Juche ideology, which deifies Supreme Leader Kim, Pyongyang remains the pinnacle of state-sponsored persecution," ICC said. 

"The practice of Christianity came to be seen as a diverging loyalty from the Supreme Leader and under the influence of American imperialism; this paranoia started early in the North's statehood as it sought to centralise the power of its first leader, Kim Il Sung.

"Therefore, being a Christian is often considered a political crime, punishable by harsh penalties, including imprisonment, torture, and even execution."

In India, a "surge in radical religious nationalism poses a grave threat to Christians, with violent incidents
escalating and Prime Minister Modi's inaction exacerbating the situation".

India is home to 26 million Christians. According to the ICC report, violence against the Christian minority has continued "at a record pace" in 2023 and is on track to meet or exceed the 600 incidents that took place last year. 

This year, Manipur Christians have been especially targeted, leaving dozens dead and hundreds of churches destroyed. 

"Human rights watchers have also noticed an increase in the size of violent incidents affecting Christian Indians," the report states.

"Mass violence in Chhattisgarh and Manipur in late 2022 and 2023 supply chilling examples of what the future could hold for India's Christian population if radical Hindu nationalism is not checked." 

ICC president Jeff King said there should be more outcry about the extent of global persecution against Christians.

"Religious persecution is a mostly hidden crisis. The masses know at some level that it exists 'somewhere' but would be hard-pressed to cite any examples," he wrote in the foreward to the report.

"Unfortunately, there are an estimated 200 to 300 million Christians who suffer persecution worldwide. I've served this
targeted group for more than two decades and still wonder why there is no widespread outcry or outrage on their behalf."

He continues, "Our brothers and sisters are murdered, imprisoned, or tortured the world over, simply for identifying as a follower of Jesus.

"After 20 years at the helm of International Christian Concern (ICC), I am inspired by the courage of these Christians on the geographical fringes of our faith.

"These believers hold onto and even thrive in their faith while enduring unimaginable pain. They are the spiritual engine, the ever-expanding church in places like China, Iran, and North Korea." 

The report can be downloaded in full here.