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World News

Q&A: Persecution watchdog boss digs into why more Christians are suffering extreme oppression

by Tola Mbakwe

Open Doors has released its 2021 World Watch List, which ranks the worst 50 countries for Christians to live in due to freedom of religion and belief violations.

Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland spoke to Premier’s Tola Mbakwe about the current state of Christian persecution.

Have you seen any trends of Christian persecution this year that were different to the last time you released this list?

"Sadly, it's been a grim year for all of us. But for Christians experiencing the smash and squeeze of persecution, it's been infinitely worse. There have been several trends that have emerged. Covid has made life much more difficult for people in many places. We warned last year about the growth of national extremism and the increasing use of surveillance by controlling governments, and that continues to increase."

Is there anything in particular that's really shocked you about what's happening with Christian persecution around the world?

"Well, in some ways, you would think that lockdown and being stuck at home would keep people safe, but actually, that hasn't been the case.

So I’ll give you an example of Rose, who's a lady who lives in Nigeria. Early last year, she was expecting her third child, she was going off to the clinic for a check-up. While she was on her way, she heard she heard that her husband Matthew, who was a church leader, had been out on patrol and had been murdered by Fulani militants. So she turned around, she got back just in time for his funeral. And then two weeks later, the country went into lockdown and Rose was unable to go out and earn the money she needed to keep herself and her two daughters alive. And as a woman, she hoped that her extended family would help. But in fact, her in-laws just came and confiscated a lot of her property and didn't help her at all. She heard that the government was distributing food aid, and she thought, ‘Oh fantastic, that'll make a big difference’, but went and was turned away because she is Christian. That just typifies some of the trends we've seen during Covid.

The increase of violence by Islamic militants across Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa is really marked. In Nigeria last year, we saw nearly three times as many Christians killed, on average; ten Christians were killed every single day in Nigeria.

It's clear that Boko Haram and Fulani militants took advantage of the lockdown to increase their attacks on Christians. And the security forces were looking the other way because they were trying to enforce lockdown, so the attacks have increased exponentially."

What are some other countries that have stood out to you this year?

"We warned last year about the increase of national extremism linked to religion in places like India, and that has increased.

In India, nationalist extremists are saying to be Indian, you have to be a Hindu. So Christians are very heavily persecuted there. That has continued.

In countries like China, we warned last year about the use of surveillance and digital technology to enable governments to control their citizens. Everyone will have seen the camps with Uighur Muslims on the news this year. And what is clear from the research is that the control by the Chinese government has continued; surveillance methodology has increased and is now in a lot of churches. But also, and perhaps the most sinister thing is that the government is controlling church leaders more and saying they now have to make the Bible and their preaching much more aligned with communist ideology.

So we've actually heard that in parts of China, the Bible is being rewritten. For example, in one official textbook, the story about the woman caught in adultery has been completely rewritten. In their version, Jesus stoned the woman himself too, which of course is absolutely not true. The increasing control in China means that it's gone in our list of the 50 most dangerous countries from number 23 to number 17 this year."

Are there any countries that may not be high on the list that we should be looking out for where persecution is slowly worsening?

"Bangladesh is interesting. It has been moving up the list for the last couple of years. Last year, it went up because of the increase in attacks from community and family members. This year, it has gone up because of attacks on Rohingya refugees in some of the camps. Not all Rohingyas are Muslims. Some of them are Muslim background, Christian believers, and they've experienced severe persecution in the camps. So, Bangladesh has actually risen up the list from number 38 to number 31 this year."

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