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The World Watch list 2024

The World Watch list is an annual report published by Open Doors, an NGO which supports Christians worldwide, and lists the fifty countries in which Christians face the “most extreme persecution”. A parliamentary launch for the latest report, which covers 2023, was held on 17 January 2024.

There is no internationally agreed definition of persecution. Open Doors’ methodology defines persecution as:

Any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians.

This broad definition includes (but is not limited to) restrictions, pressure, discrimination, opposition, disinformation, injustice, intimidation, mistreatment, marginalisation, oppression, intolerance, infringement, violation, ostracism, hostilities, harassment, abuse, violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The report also assesses incidents of violence and acts affecting private, family, community, national and church life, and ranks each country based on the number and nature of reported incidents. The report for 2023 said that:

  • Around 365 million Christians are subject to “high levels of persecution and discrimination”. This compared to 340 million in 2021 (PDF).
  • 1 in 7 Christians are persecuted worldwide, including 1 in 5 in Africa and 1 in 7 in Asia. This compared to 1 in 8 worldwide in 2021 (PDF).
  • 4,998 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons. 90% of those killed were in Nigeria, where attacks on Christians have become more common since 2020 as part of a wider rise in political violence against civilians. Open Doors estimates the number of Christians killed for faith-related reasons worldwide was 5,621 in 2023, 5,898 in 2022, and 4,761 in 2021.
  • 14,766 Churches and Christian properties were attacked.
  • North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea, and Yemen had the highest rates of reported persecution against Christians.

North Korea has been consistently ranked as having one of the highest rates of persecution since the World Watch List was first conducted in 1983. The number of countries ranked as conducting “extreme” or “very high” persecution has risen from 23 in 2015 to 55 in 2023.

Open Doors UK has also published an Advocacy report (PDF) in 2024, which makes several recommendations on UK Government action, including:

  • Prioritising freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) and making it central to engagement with other countries and in international organisations.
  • Committing resources to fragile states to support FoRB.
  • Targeting programmes to address gender-specific persecution.
  • Ensuring Artificial Intelligence and other emerging technologies are not used to persecute religious groups, and to establish global standards to this end.

Government actions on FoRB

The UK Government says promoting the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is a priority in its human rights work internationally.

The Commons Library research briefing, The UK and global Freedom of Religion or Belief, September 2023, sets out UK Government and policy to promote and protect FoRB. This includes:

Fiona Bruce MP has also introduced a Private Member’s Bill, International Freedom of Religion or Belief Bill 2022-23 (Bill 373). This would put the role of Special Envoy for International Freedom of Religion or Belief onto a statutory footing and require the Government to provide staffing and other facilities to support the office.

Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK, has called upon the Government to place the office on a statutory footing. The Bishop of Truro’s report in 2020 also called for the role to put on a permanent footing.

The Government has said it is “committed” to the role but has not issued any statement on whether it should be put on a statutory basis.

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