The persecution of Christians around the world has worsened in the past year, according to the findings of Open Doors’ annual World Watch List.

The list – which shows the 50 countries where it is judged hardest to live as a Christian – reveals that more than 215 million Christians face a "high" level of persecution for their faith, a figure which equates to one in every 12 Christians worldwide.

Some 3,000 were reported to have been killed for their faith during the period from 1st November, 2016, to 31st October, 2017 - twice as many as in the previous year. And, for the first time in the more than 20 year history of the list, the top 11 nations are classified as places where persecution is “extreme”.

North Korea

REPEAT OFFENDER: North Korea topped the World Watch List for the 17th year in a row. PICTURE: Open Doors.

James Kozina, national church engagement manager at Open Doors Australia & New Zealand, says the latest statistics show that persecution of Christians in 2017 was worse than in the previous year. But he adds that, at the same time, Christians are “standing strong” for Christ in the nations on the list.

“That’s been the thrust of our ministry since it was founded by Brother Andrew: to strengthen Christians in some of these very, very difficult places so they can remain strong in Him. That really is the broader narrative – that there may be facts that are against us but I can see really the church is advancing more than...ever...”

North Korea topped the list for the 17th year in a row with the degree of persecution there increasing as Christians come under increased scrutiny amid an ongoing crisis over the nation’s nuclear program. There are said to be some 300,000 Christians in the so-called "Hermit Kingdom" with an estimated 70,000 of them currently believed to be imprisoned in labour camps.

“Whereas North Korea has been the clear leader for many, many years, Afghanistan is right on the edge."

- James Kozina, national church engagement manager at Open Doors Australia & New Zealand.

But Mr Kozina says it was important to note that Afghanistan – which sits at number two on the list – ended with a score only slightly behind that of North Korea, due solely to a slightly lesser level of reported violence.

“Whereas North Korea has been the clear leader for many, many years, Afghanistan is right on the edge,” he says.

The increasing severity of violence facing Christians in Afghanistan meant that Somalia, where the situation facing Christians has not improved, dropped from number two to number three on the list.

The other nations in the top five include Sudan and Pakistan - which scored the highest for violence against Christians of any country - with Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Iran rounding out the top 10.

Map with numbers OD

The World Watch List 2018 map showing where persecution occurs (darker colours mean a higher ranking). GRAPHIC: Open Doors 


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

Source: World Watch List 2018

The list, which is independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom, is compiled by rating the situation facing Christians in the world's nations on a number of different criteria including whether they are free to practice Christianity as individuals, within families, communities and churches, the position national institutions take toward Christians, and the violence they face.

Islamic extremism remains the driving force for persecution in more than half of the nations on the list but Mr Kozina says there are also a range of other factors behind persecution.

“Globally, there are many, many other instances of persecution than just [those caused by] Islamic extremism,” he says. “Even places like Vietnam that seem like a great local hotspot as a tourist destination, you see obviously communism that produces significant concerns for Christians there. So it’s certainly more than just Islamic extremism…”

In India, for example, radical Hindu nationalists are cited as a key driver of persecution of Christians in the country. Ranked 11th on the list, India saw 23,793 Christians physically or mentally abused in 2017 according to reports of incidents gathered by Open Doors.

Nepal was a new entry to the list after a number of years absence. Ranked 25th, its entry has been ascribed to a sharp increase in the persecution thanks to the rising influence of Hindu extremists there.

Egypt, which ranked 17th on the list, is home to the largest church in the Middle East – the Coptic Orthodox Church - which has suffered numerous atrocities in the past few years including bombings at two churches last Easter and an attack on a bus carrying people travelling to a monastery last May. Open Doors has an upcoming campaign aimed at focusing attention on the plight of the church there.

Africa, as well as being home to Somalia (number two) and Sudan (number three) is also home to Eritrea, dubbed the “North Korea of Africa”, which has risen four places since the publication of the 2017 list, from 10th place to 6th.

Destroyed church in Egypt

Christians in Egypt have come under increased pressure. PICTURE: Open Doors.

There is some good news. Tanzania has left the list thanks to the improving situation for Christians there and the so-called Islamic State no longer poses the same sort of threat to Christians in Iraq and Syria that it once did, with large swathes of territory retaken from the group. But the downside of the latter trend is that IS fighters have been returning to home countries which may see a rise in incidents of persecution there as a result.

Mr Kozina says one other trend Open Doors was keeping an eye on is the rise in "secular intolerance" in many nations, including those in the West. That trend, coupled with a “lukewarm” church in many nations, means Open Doors was starting to see the need to prepare the church for what is to come, he says.

“[It’s] a very different kind of persecution engine to what we see in these other nations that are currently on the list but something we’re increasingly getting the sense to be prepared for as well.”

Head to to see the World Watch List.