National Magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia

Faith under fire

March 2016

by Tim Wilson

While Australian and New Zealand Christians bask in a persecution-free zone, in other countries believers are under attack.

Sometimes they have to flee for their lives. OpenDoors lists the 50 worst offenders.

North Korea holds the number one ranking for the 14th consecutive year on the OpenDoors World Watch List, which ranks the top 50 countries which persecute Christians.

Known as the Hermit Kingdom due to its wilful isolation from the rest of the world, North Korea’s apex position is due to leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to stamp out organised religion in what he views as a challenge to his power.

Although North Korea tops the list, the major source of persecution identified in 36 of the 50 countries on the list is Islamic extremism. For this reason Iraq has been ranked second. Since the late 1990s the Christian population in Iraq has shrunk from more than 1.5 million to less than 220,000. Of the Christians who remain, most are displaced in the north-east of the country, as a result of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The group has executed an unknown number of people for refusing to convert to its brand of Islam and caused many others to flee. The group still holds large swathes of territory in both Iraq and neighbouring Syria, which also appears on the list at number five.

International media coverage has focused on Islamic State; however, Boko Haram, rated as the world’s most dangerous terrorist organisation on the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Terrorism Index 2015, also has impacted rankings. Gaining notoriety after the kidnapping of more than 200 school girls in Chibok, the group is responsible for more murders over the past 12 months than Islamic State. Boko Haram’s insurgency has resulted in a rank at number 12 for Nigeria, where the group is based, and a rank of 49 in Niger due to cross-border attacks.

Number three on the World Watch List is Eritrea. Labelled as ‘the North Korea of Africa’, this small east-coast nation broke away from Ethiopia in 1991 in a bloody civil war. Since this time President Afewerki has maintained a brutal and oppressive reign, imprisoning anyone considered to be a dissenter. Eritrea had the dubious honour of the largest score increase in this year’s list.