Nigeria – a nation the U.S. Department of State has failed to designate as a Country of Particular Concern – is among the worst persecutors of Christians, an international religious freedom watchdog group reported.
“Nigeria is arguably the most dangerous place to be a Christian in the world today,” International Christian Concern stated in its 88-page 2023 “Persecutors of the Year” report.
The report points to terrorist groups in Nigeria such as Boko Haram that has been responsible for more than 38,000 deaths in the past 12 years and the enforcement of Sharia law in 12 northern states as sources of persecution.
ICC documents 55 attacks in Nigeria resulting in the deaths of 549 Christians from March 4 to July 6, the burning of a Catholic seminary and killing of a seminarian in Kaduna State, and the overnight murder of more than 20 people in a Plateau State village by radical Fulani militants in August.
“Whether the world acknowledges the plight of Nigerian Christians or not, the country has become a burial ground for Christians,” the report stated.
“Nigeria is a country torn by violence. From large, organized terror groups to small, disconnected communal militias, the violence in Nigeria is endemic.”
Other countries on ICC’s top 10 list of oppressive nations are:
- North Korea. An estimated 400,000 Christians practice their religion secretly in North Korea, ICC reported. People of faith and political prisoners who are deemed disloyal to Kim Jong Un as Supreme Leader are sentenced to prison camps where they are forced to perform hard labor.
- India. A surge in Hindu nationalism – supported by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – has resulted in the targeting of Christian and Muslim communities. The government has used blasphemy laws and anti-conversion laws to oppress non-Hindus. “In 2023, violence against Christians has continued at a record pace, on track to meet or exceed 2022 when about 600 incidents took place,” the report stated.
- Iran. Ali Khamenei, the Grand Ayatollah and Supreme Leader of Iran, operates an Islamic republic, “harshly eliminating political and religious resistance to its hardline adherence to Islam,” the report stated. Christians and others who are imprisoned for violating Sharia law are subject to imprisonment and torture.
- China. Over the past two years, the Chinese government has closed more than 7,000 churches, ICC reported. “The Chinese government aggressively suppresses religious expression, seeing it as a threat to the Chinese Communist Party’s control and national security,” the report stated. Under President Xi Jinping, the government is seeking to align state-sanctioned religion with communist principles and Chinese culture while persecuting members of house churches.
- Pakistan. While the United States has identified Pakistan as a “Country of Particular Concern,” Pakistan’s state endorsement of Islam and its blasphemy laws have continued to contribute to intolerance and persecution. “Authorities use blasphemy laws to legitimize persecution and force conversions across society to suppress Christians and other religious minorities,” the ICC report stated. “Pakistan is one of only a handful of countries around the world with the death penalty for speaking against Islam.”
- Eritrea. A 2022 government decree that required all religious groups to register led to the closing of all houses of worship except for Islam, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Eritrean Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church. “In Eritrea, those wishing to worship outside the narrow confines established by the government face severe penalties including torture, imprisonment and death,” the report stated.
- Algeria. The government closed dozens of congregations affiliated with the Protestant Church of Algeria, and the nation continues to have blasphemy laws in its penal code, ICC reported.
- Indonesia. Islamist extremists target religious minorities in Indonesia, using blasphemy laws to intimidate and suppress non-Muslim religious practice, the ICC report stated.
- Azerbaijan. Viewing Armenian culture and Christianity as synonymous, Azerbaijan officials have destroyed historical churches. “Azerbaijan’s end game is clear: to rid its borders of Christianity—either by forcing the Armenian people and their faith out of Azerbaijan or destroying the people and historical sites,” the report stated.
In addition to countries persecuting Christians, ICC also named six entities it identified as the world’s worst in terms of oppressing religious freedom and religious minorities.
They are: Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamic State-affiliated group operating in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; Al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-affiliated jihadist group in Somalia and northeastern Kenya; Fulani militants, killing Christians in the Middle Belt of Nigeria; Sahel terror groups, conducting jihadist attacks in Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region; the Taliban in Afghanistan; and the Tatmadaw Burmese military in Myanmar.
ICC singled out five individual actors as among the worst persecutors globally. In addition to Kim Jong Un in North Korea and Xi Jinping in China, they are Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of India’s Uttar Pradesh State; Isaias Afwerki, president of Eritrea; and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of the Republic of Turkey.