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The global Christian population

The US-based Pew Research Center estimated that Christians of all denominations constituted the largest religious group in the world in 2015, at 2.3 billion, or 31% of the global population.

Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and Europe each have around 25% of the global Christian population, with 13% of Christians living in the Asia-Pacific region and 1% in North Africa and the Middle East.

An earlier report by Pew, published in 2011, estimated that 90% of Christians live in countries where they are in a majority.

Persecution against Christians

Christians are far from the only faith and belief group subject to persecution and establishing the degree of violence, discrimination, coercion and intimidation is necessarily based on estimates. A short selection of reports providing a global overview is provided below.

Open Doors report, 2022

In 2022, advocacy group Open Doors said that at least 360 million Christians experienced “high levels of persecution and discrimination.” This was 20 million higher than 2021.

The group also estimated that the number of Christians killed for their faith rose to 5,898 in 2022, up from 4,761 in 2021. Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen saw the highest rates of persecution globally.

Persecution included instances of intimidation, disinformation, stereotyping, legal threats, and attacks on places of worship.

Pew report, 2021

In 2021, Pew assessed that 190 of 198 countries and territories analysed in 2019 saw religious groups experience at least one form of harassment (eg forced displacement, derogatory statements). The number of countries in which Christians had been harassed rose every year bar one from 2013 to 2019, increasing from 102 to 153 (77% of the 198 analysed countries).

The Middle East-North Africa region had the highest share of countries in which Christians were harassed (19 of 20), followed by the Asia-Pacific.

Gender and persecution

Vulnerability to persecution and discrimination based on belief and religion can also be influenced by factors including a person’s economic status, gender, age, and ethnicity.

The Bishop of Truro’s 2019 report on the persecution of Christians notes women face a “double marginalisation:”

In the last 10 years anecdotal evidence has begun to emerge from persecuted Christians that women were suffering violent attacks, targeted abuses and restrictions in the face of ‘double marginalisation’. They were marginalised and abused because of being both a woman and Christian.

Open Doors published a report on gender-specific persecution in 2021. For the 50 countries analysed, it found Christian women were often at higher risk than men from persecution. Physical violence, economic harassment and imprisonment were reported against men, while forced marriage, sexual and physical violence, and forced divorce were reported against women.

The issue of gender-specific religious persecution was debated by the House of Commons in March 2022.

Country-specific issues

Jim Shannon MP, who proposed the debate topic to the Backbench Business Committee, said he hoped the debate would highlight the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Africa, and the Far East, including in countries such as Iraq, Nigeria, and North Korea.

Sections 4 to 7 of this briefing provide links to information on the situation in specific countries, including recent events and the role of both state and non-state actors in persecution.

Section 7.2 provide a list of organisations and NGOs who have published material on religious persecution worldwide. The US Office of International Religious Freedom 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom provides a profile of religious freedom in most countries. 


Iraq’s constitution protects the right to freedom of religion or belief. However, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) have cited concern for the high number of Christians who are displaced within Iraq due to conflict and the fear of persecution from armed groups.

The number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from an estimated 1.4 million in 2003 to around 250,000, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, who have published a report on religious freedom in Iraq in 2021 (PDF, March 2022).


Christians constitute around half Nigeria’s population, and as part of wider political violence in the country Christians have been subject to increased risk of violence. According to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED), there have been a rising number of attacks on Christian churches in Nigeria, rising from 18 in 2019, to 31 in 2020, to 23 in the first six months of 2022.

Terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram have been blamed on this undermining of the country’s constitutional protections of ForB.

North Korea

In 2021, the Korea Future Initiative’s report, Persecuting Faith: Documenting religious freedom violations in North Korea, said that North Korean Christians are among the faith groups subject to “systematic and arbitrary attacks.” Its report examines 167 cases of human rights abuse against 91 Christians from 1997 to 2018.

The UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights published their most recent report on North Korea in 2021. This stated North Korea’s Government is “engaged in a systematic and widespread attack” on the groups that it considers to be a threat to the regime. This includes faith and belief groups.

UK policy on Freedom of Religion or Belief

International law provides for the protection of FoRB:

In 2020, Fiona Bruce MP was appointed the UK Special Envoy for FoRB by the UK Government. The Envoy supports the implementation of the Bishop of Truro’s recommendations on protecting Christians from persecution (see below) and UK international efforts to raise cases of concern.

In July 2022, the Special Envoy and UK Government hosted an international conference on FoRB. 35 countries, primarily from Europe and North America but also including Brazil and Kenya, signed up to one or more set of statements on FoRB.

To mark the 2022 conference, the UK announced £500,000 of funding to provide legal support to areas where FoRB is under pressure. Previous Government funding has included the John Bunyan Fund and Magna Carta Fund.

Bishop of Truro report, 2019, and response

In 2019, the Bishop of Truro published his report into Foreign & Commonwealth support for persecuted Christians, commissioned by the Department. This made several recommendations, including:

  • To seek a UN Security Council Resolution urging governments in the Middle East and North Africa to protect Christians, and other minorities.
  • Foreign Office staff to have mandatory training on religious literacy.
  • British embassies and high commissions to deliver tailored responses to any violations of freedom of religion or belief.

In January 2020, the Government confirmed that it had accepted the report’s recommendations in full, and that work was ongoing to implement them. The House of Commons held a debate on progress in October 2020.

In July 2022, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office published an assessment of its implementation of the review.

While noting progress, including the use of sanctions against some preparators of FoRB abuse including in Myanmar and China, the report cited concerns such as whether the Special Envoy on FoRB has sufficient resources and authority to work with government departments to advance FoRB.

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