NEARLY 140 million Christians suffered high levels of hostility in Asia last year, a region the report describes as ‘the new hotbed of persecution’.
The annual Open Doors World Watch List, released on Wednesday, said Asia is ‘the new hotbed of persecution for Christians’.
It noted a sharp increase in the persecution of Christians in Asia over the past five years – but with a dramatic spike in 2018, driven by the likes of a rise in Hindu ultra-nationalism in India, radical Islamism in Indonesia and tougher religious regulations in China.
North Korea was ranked as the world’s most anti-Christian country for the 18th consecutive year. Pakistan and India were determined to have ‘extreme’ levels of Christian persecution, with the Maldives, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam rounding out Asian countries in the top 20.
Open Doors defines persecution, in simple terms, as ‘any hostility experienced as a result of one’s Christian faith. This can include hostile attitudes, words, and actions towards Christians’.
China and Indonesia, both entering the top 30, were singled out for a drastic deterioration in the treatment of Christians.
“The report confirms my impression of what’s going on around the world and confirms my knowledge of what has been happening in China,” said Yang Fenggang, the founder of the Centre on Religion and Chinese Society at Purdue University in the United States.
“Under Xi Jinping, the suppression of Christian churches and other religious organisations is being carried out nationwide with unprecedented determination.”
Of about 403 million Christians from Afghanistan to the Korean peninsula, an estimated 139 million – or one in three – were found to live under ‘high persecution’, or where ‘prominent Christians are targeted, churches themselves subject to significant restrictions, and the culture remains largely hostile to a Christian presence’.
Militant atheism, radical Islamism and nationalism are three basic motives for Christian persecution, said Nina Shea, the director of the Centre for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, a US think tank. Asia, in her words, is exhibiting all three.
“There are different reasons for it in each country. It’s baffling that they have all come at once,” said Shea, a former head of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. “Intolerance is gaining strength, but these trends are not consistent with each other or any pattern. You certainly can’t say it’s from one source.”
Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, said he was ‘very concerned’ about the rise of religious intolerance.
“Freedom of religion is routinely violated across much of Asia,” he said in a speech in Bangkok in August.
“In many countries, the civic space is closing and restrictions on expression and other civil liberties are rising. The persecution of religious minorities is increasing, a worrying trend confirmed by the 2019 World Watch List report,” Shaheed, a former Maldivian foreign minister, told the South China Morning Post.
“Governments need to recognise the close links between respect for freedom of religion or belief, and societal peace and economic prosperity.”
Open Doors, a Britain-based charity, was founded in 1955. In 1981, the group smuggled 1 million outlawed Chinese Bibles to a beach in southern China. Its yearly watch list compiles field interviews and reports, questionnaires and news reports, scoring countries out of 100 for “persecution points” to determine their rank on the list. The watch list is independently audited by International Institute of Religious Freedom.