Persecution of Christians is 'set to rise' in 2019

Release International has warned that the persecution of Christians worldwide is set to rise in 2019.

The charity has welcomed a review of Christian persecution ordered by Britain's foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and led by the Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen. Its chief executive Paul Robinson said there was a 'worrying upward trend' in persecution and backed calls for the UK to do more to 'support the suffering church worldwide'.

Release said its partners support the view that persecution is rising and have warned the trend will continue into 2019. Among the countries it names as of particular concern for 2019 are Nigeria, India and China.

China's President Xi Jinping has launched a crackdown on religion.Reuters

In Nigeria Fulani militants are set to continue devastating attacks against Christians in the north and centre of the country. In the first six months of 2018 alone, they killed up to 6,000 people and drove 50,000 from their homes.

A Release partner said: 'The escalation in killing is very clear. There is a deliberate plan to destroy and take over the predominantly Christian communities in the region.'

In China there has been a sharp increase in government opposition to religion, including Christianity. Tough new rules, which came into effect in 2018, have banned children and young people from church meetings. In some areas, house churches unwilling to come under state control have split down in order to survive.

China has been continuing a policy of removing Christian symbols and closing churches. Increasingly, they are targeting the larger unregistered house churches. A Release partner believes they have been emboldened to close these higher profile churches by the lack of opposition from the West. 'The government wants to reduce Christianity to just a minor activity by unimportant older people,' the partner said.

Up to a million Uighur Muslims are believed to be detained in Chinese 're-education' camps.

In India, attacks against Christians by Hindu nationalists are on the rise. Violent mobs have broken up prayer meetings, several states have passed laws prohibiting so-called forced conversion (effectively outlawing all evangelism), and pastors have been attacked.

Other countries of specific concern for 2019 include North Korea, Eritrea and Pakistan, where Christian Asia Bibi is still not free to leave, despite being acquitted of blasphemy.