Top 50 Countries Where Persecution of Christians Is Strongest: Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List is Released

Debbie McDaniel | iBelieve Contributing Writer | Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Top 50 Countries Where Persecution of Christians Is Strongest: Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List is Released

This past year, for the 3rd year in a row, persecution of Christians has hit a record high worldwide.

Open Doors has released its 2017 World Watch List (WWL) and cites increasing concerns for Asia along with the Middle East, due to both ethnic nationalism and Islamic extremism.

“The annual list examines the pressures faced by Christians in five spheres of life (private, family, community, national, and church), plus levels of religiously motivated violence, in order to rank the top 50 countries where ‘Christians face the most persecution.’”

Open Doors defines persecution as “any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ.” It states, “Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. 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.”

A report by Christianity Today lists these 10 trends in regards to the study:

  • Approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high, or extreme persecution.
  • North Korea remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian (for 14 straight years).
  • Islamic extremism remains the global dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries on the 2017 list.
  • Ethnic nationalism is fast becoming a major driver of persecution. “While this took an anti-establishment form in the West, in Asia it took an anti-minorities form, fueled by dramatic religious nationalism and government insecurity. It is common—and easy—for tottering governments to gain quick support by scapegoating Christians.”
  • The total number of persecution incidents in the top 50 most dangerous countries increased, revealing the persecution of Christians worldwide as a rising trend.
  • The most violent: Pakistan, which rose to No. 4 on the list for a level of violence “exceeding even northern Nigeria.”
  • The killings of Christians in Nigeria saw an increase of more than 62 percent.
  • The killings of Christians were more geographically dispersed than in most time periods studied. “Hitting closer to home, 23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith,” said Open Doors of the “rare” event.
  • The worst increase: Mali, which moved up the most places on the list from No. 44 to No. 32.
  • Asia is a new center of concern, with persecution rising sharply in Bangladesh, Laos, and Bhutan, and Sri Lanka joining the list for the first time.​

The top 10 nations where it is most dangerous and difficult to practice the Christian faith are:

  1. North Korea
  2. Somalia
  3.  Afghanistan
  4. Pakistan
  5.  Sudan
  6. Syria
  7.  Iraq
  8. Iran
  9. Yemen
  10. Eritrea

Yemen was the only new country in the top 10, replacing Libya from previous years.

Over the past 25 years, only three countries have topped the list: North Korea (2002 – 2017), Saudi Arabia (1993 – 1995; 1998 – 2001), and Somalia (1996 – 1997).

The top 10 nations over the 25-year span are:

  1. North Korea
  2. Saudi Arabia
  3. Iran
  4. Somalia
  5. Afghanistan
  6. Maldives
  7. Yemen
  8. Sudan
  9. Vietnam
  10. China

But among all of the grim news, the report also reveals two positive trends:

1. Christians looking forward to going back to historic homes in northern Iraq

“The days of an Islamic State-run caliphate in Northern Iraq and Syria are numbered. Since an August 2016 offensive, the Islamic militants have been pushed back by a coalition of Iraqi and foreign-backed forces. Some of the towns and villages, such as Qaraqosh – which were once completely Christian – have been liberated. Iraq’s second largest city – Mosul – will soon be in the hands of Iraqi forces. Over 80,000 Christians fled their homes in 2014 and have been refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan since.”

“We can’t wait to go back,” said one, in Erbil. “But we will go back with a greater determination to keep freedom defended.”

2. ‘Exodus’ of Middle East Christians slows

“Most Christians in the Middle East may have crossed a border within the region, but the majority have not yet left the region as a whole.

The number of Christians exiting the region has slowed. Open Doors estimates the number of Christians in the Middle East and Turkey at currently 16.5 million, including migrant and expatriate Christians in the Gulf States.”

Even among great persecution, God is still at work in our world. His Truth is being preached. Many are coming to know Him. The Gospel is spreading to all the earth. May He help us all to be constantly and increasingly aware of the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ all around this world. May He remind us to pray constantly on their behalf.

Dear God, we ask that your Spirit would surround your people this year as never before. Give them your strength, give them great courage, cover them with huge peace. We pray for miracles of your protection and that your Name would be honored and exalted in every land. In the powerful Name of Jesus we pray, Amen.”


Read more by Debbie McDaniel at www.debbiemcdaniel.com, or

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Publication date: January 11, 2017