The NGO International Christian Concern (ICC) has published its annual report listing ten countries where Christians suffer serious persecution. But in some of these countries, Christianity is nevertheless on the rise.
Areport to “shine light into darkness”. The International Christian Center (ICC), an American ecumenical NGO, has just published its annual list of the “worst persecutors” of Christians in the world. In many countries, the 2023 news will have been marked by dramatic events of Christians bullied, imprisoned, kidnapped or murdered. The NGO has identified ten of these countries in which the Christian faith is severely oppressed. And yet, the report announces a “light in the darkness”: despite persecution, the Christian faith is progressing in some of these countries, such as China, Iran, or Nigeria.
In Africa, Nigeria is hard hit by one of the most serious scourges that Christians suffer daily: Islamist fundamentalism. Armed gangs like Boko Haram and rebels kidnap and massacre hundreds of Christians, men, women and children, particularly in the north of the country. Religious people and priests risk their lives daily and are particularly targeted by kidnappings and murders. On September 7, 2023, a seminarian burned to death after Fulani herdsmen attacked the parish house where he lived, in Kaduna state. In 17 years, from 2006 to 2023, more than fifty priests have been kidnapped, and 17 killed, the Nigerian bishops’ conference said in September .
2 NORTH KOREA
In the Kim Jong Un dictatorship, the practice of the Christian religion is prohibited. Christians, who according to the report number between 200,000 and 400,000 out of 25.8 million inhabitants, must hide to live their faith. In 2022, the regime added an amendment to the “anti-reactionary” law criminalizing the practice of the Christian religion and the possession of objects of devotion. In May 2023, a couple and their 2-year-old child were sentenced to life in prison after a Bible was found in the family home. The ICC mentions that Christians are regularly imprisoned, tortured in detention camps, and even executed.
In India, the Christian community numbers around 26 million people, or 2.5% of the Indian population. Like Muslims, Christians are targets of persecution by Hindu nationalists currently in power. In recent years, anti-Christian revolts and violence have increased. In 2023, the Christian community in the state of Manipur, in northeast India, was particularly affected by attacks by Hindu nationalists, which caused the death of several dozen Christians. In addition to physical violence, Christians can be forced into forced conversions, or suffer false allegations of blasphemy, which are severely punished in India.
The authoritarian regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran is not known for its benevolence towards Christian communities. In this predominantly Shiite country, there are between 500,000 and 800,000 Christians, or 1% of the population. Many of them Christians supported the protest movement against the regime of Hassan Rouhani after the death of young Mahsa Amini in 2022.
In theory, the practice of the Christian faith is not prohibited. However, it is a facade freedom, as clarified in an interview with Aleteia in 2019, Mgr Pascal Gollnisch, director of the Work of the Orient. In Iran, a Muslim faces criminal sanctions if he undertakes the process of converting to Christianity. Likewise, mixed marriages are prohibited. But the report specifies that the Church in Iran is making strong progress.
Godong I Pascal Deloche
In China, the atheist communist regime is hostile to the Christian faith. However, there are 70 to 100 million Christians who live their faith more or less clandestinely. The ICC report even indicates that Christianity is experiencing “rapid progress”. The faith and courage of these converts command admiration. Surveillance of churches by cameras, arrests, imprisonment, censorship… The popular dictatorship controls and represses those who speak openly about their Christian faith, even if a dialogue between the Church and the regime has gradually been established in recent years.
Pakistan is one of the states where the situation of Christians is the most dramatic. Islamic fundamentalism is deeply rooted in institutions and society, and Christians risk their lives to follow Christ. The anti-blasphemy law, used as a tool of oppression against the Christian community, allows authorities to arrest, sentence to death and execute believers based on simple, often false, allegations. They are also often the target of violence and destruction by crowds of rioters , as in Faisabalad (in the east of the country) and in Jaranwala on August 16, 2023.
According to the ICC report, Eritrea wins the prize as the most repressive state in Africa, where Christians are among “the most persecuted in the world”. It will be noted that they are the majority in a population made up of 63% Christians and 37% Muslims. The State, whose Constitution nevertheless recognizes religious freedom, has taken an authoritarian turn for several years. Christians are frequently arrested in raids organized by authorities who see certain Churches not recognized by the state as a threat. In April 2023, around 100 Christian students gathered to pray and shoot social media videos were arrested and imprisoned in a center renowned for its inhumane detention conditions.
The repression of religious freedoms in Algeria does not receive much coverage in the media and receives little attention from public opinion. But it nevertheless exists, which the ICC strongly points out by choosing to include it in its ranking. There are between 20,000 and 200,000 Christians, among whom there are only 5,000 Catholics.
The Algerian state has anti-blasphemy legislation, which makes it possible to arrest and prosecute a non-Muslim accused of proselytizing. In 2019, the authorities decided to close places of worship due to the covid-19 crisis. But in 2021, when mosques were able to reopen, the state refused to do the same for churches, particularly those affiliated with the Protestant Church of Algeria. Most are still closed today.
Christians in Indonesia represent nearly 10% of the population, in a state made up of a majority of Muslims. Tensions are very high between the latter and Christian communities, who suffer bullying and violence. There are also anti-blasphemy laws, and authorities regularly restrict access to Christian places of worship. At Christmas 2022 , the Indonesian government banned many Christians from attending mass outside places of worship, although there were far too few of them to accommodate all the faithful.
ALAIN JOCARD/ AFP
Until the end of September 2023, some 120,000 Armenian Christians lived in the self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Recognized by international law as part of Azerbaijani territory, its inhabitants have claimed the right to constitute their own state since the end of the Soviet era. After a bloody war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, the noose has gradually tightened around the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh. On September 19, 20223, while the population was subjected to a grueling blockade since the end of 2022, Azerbaijan finally launched the final offensive, which pushed all the inhabitants of the enclave to leave their native land: nearly 120,000 people, in one week, left Nagorno-Karabakh to find refuge in Armenia. President Aliyev, who had already promised at the end of the 2020 war to “hunt [the Armenians] like dogs” at the end of the 2020 war, is singled out by part of the international community for having organized the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the destruction of Christian heritage in this region.