North Korea claims the No. 1 spot on
the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List—an annual ranking of the 50
countries where Christians face the most persecution. With more than
50,000 people in prison or labor camps, such a ranking is little
surprise for the totalitarian regime that controls every aspect of life
in the country and forces worship of the Kim family.
But the new report reveals an alarming trend as countries driven by
Islamic extremism, such as Afghanistan (No. 2), reach persecution levels
rivaling those in North Korea. Of the 50 countries on the Open Doors
World Watch List, 30 saw an increase in persecution during the reporting
Within the countries on the Open Doors World Watch List, approximately
215 million Christians experience high, very high or extreme
persecution. Trends show that countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle
East are intensifying persecution against Christians, and perhaps the
most vulnerable are Christian women, who often face double persecution
for faith and gender.
Every day six women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage
to a Muslim under threat of death due to their Christian faith. The 2018
Open Doors World Watch List documented 2,260 such incidences against
women—a number that only covers those who had the courage to report such
an incident, and is estimated to be a mere fraction of those actually
raped and harassed in this way.
“Open Doors monitors the intensity faced by Christians around the world,
and the World Watch List quantifies what we see,” said David Curry,
president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “This year, as incidents of
violence related to persecution have increased—especially those related
to women, it is imperative we continue to advocate and call leaders to
prioritize issues of religious freedom.”
The Open Doors World Watch List is a global indicator of countries where
human and religious rights are being violated, and those countries most
vulnerable to societal unrest and destabilization. This is the 26th year
of the Open Doors World Watch List, and it remains the only
comprehensive, annual survey to rank the 50 countries where it is most
difficult to be a Christian.
One in every 12 Christians in the world lives in an area, or in a
culture, in which Christianity is illegal, forbidden or punished.
North Korea tops the list for the 16th year in a row.
The countries where persecution increased the most are Egypt, India,
Libya, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkey.
Nepal and Azerbaijan are newcomers to the list.
Comoros and Tanzania fell off the list.
Pakistan had the most violence recorded against Christians.
Islamic extremism remains the global, dominant driver of persecution,
responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 of the 50
countries on the list.
Dramatically increasing persecution against Christians in all areas of
their lives, Afghanistan models alarming trends that reverberate through
the top 10 on the list: no central government, extremist Muslim factions
trying to control the country and an intense, conservative Islamic
“Afghanistan and North Korea nearly tied. Never before have the top two
countries been so close in incidents. Both countries are extreme in
intolerance and outright persecution of Christians in every area Open
Doors monitors. Afghanistan now meets the same level of persecution as
North Korea in five out of the six areas. This is a tragedy considering
the efforts being made by the international community to help rebuild
Afghanistan are failing to ensure freedom of religion,” said Curry.
“Reports of violence and human rights atrocities from North Korea are
pervasive, while the situation faced by Christians in Afghanistan may be
underestimated. It is hard for westerners to imagine a second country
could nearly meet the levels of persecution seen in North Korea, but
Afghanistan has reached that level this year.”
In addition to Pakistan being the most violent toward Christians, the
country scored the highest in churches or church building attacks,
abductions, and forced marriages.
Twenty-two of the 50 countries on the list are in Asia. India
experienced a dramatic rise in persecution, moving from No. 15 in 2017
to No. 11 this year. Radical Hinduism and Indian nationalism are driving
factors in the increasing levels of unrest and instability Christians
face. In 2014, India scored only 55 points, while during the 2018
reporting period, Open Doors World Watch List researchers assigned 81
points to the nation—one of the fastest and most intense increases seen.
Nepal appears on the list for the first time and lands stunningly at No.
25 due to India’s religious nationalism spilling into the country.
Ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation is becoming common in a
number of sub-Saharan African countries like Somalia (No. 3), Sudan (No.
4), Nigeria (No. 14) and Kenya (No. 32). Terrorism connected with
extreme Islam continues to plague many African nations, resulting in
increased persecution of Christians.
Mexico (39) and Colombia (49) remain the only two nations outside the
Middle East, Asia and Africa to make the list. Both experienced
increases in persecution, primarily attributed to organized crime,
corruption and governmental instability.
According to research calculations, the top 10 nations where Christians
found it most dangerous and difficult to practice their faith in 2017
North Korea (94 points)
Afghanistan (93 points)
Somalia (91 points)
Sudan (87 points)
Pakistan (86 points)
Eritrea (86 points)
Libya (86 points)
Iraq (86 points)
Yemen (85 points)
Iran (85 points)
Syria dropped out of the top 10 down to No. 15, while Libya jumped back
up to No. 7 (since being No. 10 in 2016).
Persecution at a Glance
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the
world. While persecution of Christians takes many forms, it is defined
as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ.
Christians throughout the world continue to risk imprisonment, loss of
home and assets, torture, beheadings, rape, and even death as a result
of their faith.
View the Complete 2018 Open Doors World Watch List.
The Open Doors World Watch List is the only comprehensive, annual survey
of the state of religious liberty for Christians around the world. From
Nov. 1, 2016, to Oct. 31, 2017, researchers measured the degree of
freedom a Christian has to live out his or her faith in five spheres of
life—private, family, community, national and church, plus a sixth
category measuring the degree of violence. Points are given for each
incident of persecution, and the total points provide the ranking for
each country. For more information on the methodology of the Open Doors
World Watch List, please visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.
About Open Doors USA
For more than 60 years, Open Doors USA has worked in the world’s most
oppressive and restrictive countries for Christians. Open Doors works to
equip and encourage Christians living in dangerous circumstances with
the threat of persecution and equips the Western church to advocate for
the persecuted. Christians are one of the most persecuted religious
groups in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries. For more
information, visit OpenDoorsUSA.org.