The country, which fell under Taliban rule last year, replaces North Korea which had sat at the top of the World Watch List for the past two decades.
According to Australian charity Open Doors which this month released the 2022 list ranking the 50 countries where the persecution of Christians is most extreme, 360 million Christians around the world experience a high to extreme level of persecution.
The organisation said that over the past 20 years North Korea had grown increasingly worse for Christians as countless individuals lost their lives for practising their faith and whole families were sent to forced labour camps. However, in 2021 persecution had become more extreme for Christians living in Afghanistan, the country which was previously ranked number two on the watch list.
Open Doors said Christians in Afghanistan were forced into hiding or killed following the Taliban takeover in August 2021. Freedom of religion was not prioritised by the regime and converting from Islam was forbidden.
“Right now, Christians in Afghanistan are being hunted down and their names are known to the Taliban,” the Open Doors report said.
“They are living under deplorable conditions and are forced to stay in hiding, operating completely underground. Many Christians have fled to rural regions, or refugee camps in neighbouring nations – all of which are countries hostile to Christians.”
Mike Gore, CEO of Open Doors Australia and New Zealand, said many Christians had been forced to flee or risk death at the hands of the Taliban.
“Bringing to light the persecution of Christians remains the work of Open Doors for the foreseeable future,” he said. “Our goal is to equip and strengthen the global Church to stand courageously for Jesus.”
The list ranks the top countries where the persecution of Christians is most extreme and covers the period from October 1 2020 to September 30 2021.
The fastest riser on the 2022 list was Niger which moved from 54 to 33. Other countries where persecution of Christians has increased include:
Qatar (now ranked 18, up from 29) – as a result of the closure of the majority of house churches. After COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, many house churches that had once been tolerated were forced to stay closed. Converts from Islam to Christianity remain under very high pressure from the Qatari government and Qatari society.
Myanmar (12, up from 18) – as violence intensifies since the military coup. In parts of the country, the army loots and destroys churches and homes with impunity. The military fear Christian gatherings could be a focus for opposition and have attacked and killed pastors and helpers in IDP camps. Converts face strong pressure from family and community.
Indonesia – mainly due to the deadly attacks against Christians in Sulawesi. In November 2020, two assassins tried to get into a church in Sulawesi. They were challenged and failed, and blew themselves up, injuring 20. In May 2021, still in Sulawesi, four Christians were beheaded by Islamic extremists. Many arrests of Muslim extremists followed, and in September security forces killed their leader. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, and attitudes are becoming more conservative.
Cuba – first time on the list since 2012 and due to an increase in pressure in all spheres of life and violence. The dictatorial regime intensified its action against all Christian leaders and activists opposing Communist principles, especially after the widespread demonstrations which occurred in July 2021. Government measures included arbitrary fines, close surveillance, denials of licenses and religious visas, arrest and physical/mental abuse.
To view the full list go to www.opendoors.org.au
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