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The 50 Countries Where It’s Most Dangerous to Follow Jesus in 2021

Posted by on March 29, 2021 — Drop A Comment

Latest report on Christian persecution finds 3 in
4 martyrs are in Nigeria, ranked among 10
worst persecutors for first time.

Every day, 13 Christians worldwide
are killed because of their faith.
Every day, 12 churches or Christian
buildings are attacked.
And every day, 12 Christians are
unjustly arrested or imprisoned, and
another 5 are abducted.
So reports the 2021 World Watch List
(WWL), the latest annual accounting
from Open Doors of the top 50
countries where Christians are the
most persecuted for following Jesus.
“You might think the [list] is all about
oppression. … But the [list] is really
all about resilience,” stated David
Curry, president and CEO of Open
Doors USA, introducing the report
released today.
“The numbers of God’s people who
are suffering should mean the Church
is dying—that Christians are keeping
quiet, losing their faith, and turning
away from one another,” he stated.
“But that’s not what’s happening.
Instead, in living color, we see the
words of God recorded in the prophet
Isaiah: ‘I will make a way in the
wilderness and rivers in the
desert’” (Isa. 43:19, ESV).
The listed nations contain 309 million
Christians living in places with very
high or extreme levels of persecution,
up from 260 million in last year’s list.
Another 31 million could be added
from the 24 nations that fall just
outside the top 50—such as Cuba, Sri
Lanka, and the United Arab Emirates
(UAE)—for a ratio of 1 in 8 Christians
worldwide facing persecution. This
includes 1 in 6 believers in Africa and
2 out of 5 in Asia.
Last year, 45 nations scored high
enough to register “very high”
persecution levels on Open Doors’s
84-question matrix. This year, for the
first time in 29 years of tracking, all
50 qualified—as did 4 more nations
that fell just outside the cutoff.
Open Doors identified three main
trends driving last year’s increase:
“COVID-19 acted as a catalyst for
religious persecution through relief
discrimination, forced conversion,
and as justification for increasing
surveillance and censorship.”
“Extremist attacks opportunistically
spread further throughout Sub-
Saharan Africa, from Nigeria and
Cameroon to Burkina Faso, Mali,
and beyond.”
“Chinese censorship systems
continue to propagate and spread
to emerging surveillance states.”
Open Doors has monitored Christian
persecution worldwide since 1992.
North Korea has ranked No. 1 for 20
years, since 2002 when the watch list
The 2021 version tracks the time
period from November 1, 2019 to
October 31, 2020, and is compiled
from grassroots reports by Open
Doors workers in more than 60
“We are not just talking to religious
leaders,” said Curry, at the livestream
launch of this year’s list. “We’re
hearing firsthand from those
experiencing persecution, and we
only report what we can document.”
The purpose of the annual WWL
rankings—which have chronicled how
North Korea now has competition as
persecution gets worse and worse—is
to guide prayers and to aim for more
effective anger while showing
persecuted believers that they are not
forgotten .


Where are Christians most
persecuted today?
This year the top 10 worst persecutors
are relatively unchanged. After North
Korea is Afghanistan, followed by
Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea,
Yemen, Iran, Nigeria, and India.
Nigeria entered the top 10 for the first
time, after maxing out Open Doors’s
metric for violence. The nation, with
Africa’s largest Christian population,
ranks No. 9 overall but is second
behind only Pakistan in terms of
violence, and ranks No. 1 in the
number of Christians killed for
reasons related to their faith.
Sudan left the top 10 for the first time
in six years, after abolishing the death
penalty for apostasy and
guaranteeing—on paper at least—
freedom of religion in its new
constitution after three decades of
Islamic law. Yet it remains No. 13 on
the list, as Open Doors researchers
noted Christians from Muslim
backgrounds still face attacks,
ostracization, and discrimination
from their families and communities,
while Christian women face sexual

(This switch among the top 10 echoes
the decision of the US State
Department in December to add
Nigeria and remove Sudan from its
Countries of Particular Concern list,
which names and shames
governments which have “engaged in
or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and
egregious violations of religious

Where It’s Hardest to Follow Jesus:

  1. North Korea
  2. Afghanistan
  3. Somalia
  4. Libya
  5. Pakistan
  6. Eritrea
  7. Yemen
  8. Iran
  9. Nigeria
  10. India
    India remains in the top 10 for the
    third year in a row because it
    “continues to see an increase in
    violence against religious minorities
    due to government-sanctioned Hindu
    Meanwhile, China joined the top 20
    for the first time in a decade, due to
    “ongoing and increasing surveillance
    and censorship of Christians and
    other religious minorities.”
    Of the top 50 nations:
    12 have “extreme” levels of
    persecution and 38 have “very
    high” levels. Another 4 nations
    outside the top 50 also qualify as
    “very high”: Cuba, Sri Lanka, United
    Arab Emirates, and Niger.
    19 are in Africa (6 in North Africa),
    14 are in Asia, 10 are in the Middle
    East, 5 are in Central Asia, and 2
    are in Latin America.
    34 have Islam as a main religion, 4
    have Buddhism, 2 have Hinduism,
    1 has atheism, 1 has agnosticism—
    and 10 have Christianity.
    The 2021 list added four new
    countries: Mexico (No. 37),
    Democratic Republic of Congo (No.
    40), Mozambique (No. 45), and
    Comoros (No. 50).
    Mozambique rose 21 spots (up from
    No. 66) “due to extremist Islamic
    violence in the northern province of
    Cabo Delgado.” The Democratic
    Republic of Congo rose 17 spots (up
    from No. 57) “mainly due to attacks
    on Christians by the Islamist group
    ADF.” Mexico rose 15 spots (up from
    No. 52) due to rising violence and
    discrimination against Christians
    from drug traffickers, gangs, and
    indigenous communities.
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Four countries dropped off the list:
Sri Lanka (formerly No. 30), Russia
(formerly No. 46), United Arab
Emirates (formerly No. 47), and Niger
(formerly No. 50).
Where Christians Face the Most Violence:

  1. Pakistan
  2. Nigeria
  3. Democratic Republic of Congo
  4. Mozambique
  5. Cameroon
  6. Central African Republic
  7. India
  8. Mali
  9. South Sudan
  10. Ethiopia
    Open Doors reporting period: November 2019
    to October 2020
    Other big changes in rankings:
    Colombia rose 11 spots from No. 41 to
    No. 30 due to violence from
    guerrillas, criminal groups, and
    indigenous communities and growing
    secular intolerance. Turkey rose 11
    spots from No. 36 to No. 25 due to an
    increase in violence against
    Christians. And Bangladesh rose
    seven spots from No. 38 to No. 31 due
    to attacks on Christian converts
    among its Rohingya refugees.
    However, other types of persecution
    can outweigh violence [as explained
    below]. For example, the Central
    African Republic fell 10 spots from
    No. 25 to No. 35, yet violence against
    Christians there remains extreme.
    And Kenya fell six spots from No. 43
    to No. 49 though attacks there
    “increased significantly.”
    Meanwhile, South Sudan ranks
    among the top 10 most violent
    nations tracked by Open Doors (at
    No. 9), yet doesn’t even make the top
    50 watch list (at No. 69).
    For the list’s 25th anniversary in
    2017, Open Doors released an analysis
    of persecution trends over the past
    quarter-century. The top 10 nations
    over the 25-year span were: North
    Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia,
    Afghanistan, Maldives, Yemen, Sudan,
    Vietnam, and China.

Five countries appear on both the 25-
year and 2021 top 10 lists—a
concerning sign of the stability of
persecution, noted Open Doors.
How are Christians
persecuted in these
Open Doors tracks persecution across
six categories—including both social
and governmental pressure on
individuals, families, and
congregations—and has a special
focus on women.
But when violence is isolated as a
category, the top 10 persecutors shift
dramatically—only Pakistan, Nigeria,
and India remain. In fact, 20 nations
are now deadlier for Christians than
North Korea.
Worldwide registered martyrdoms
rose to 4,761 in the 2021 report, up 60
percent from the 2,983 tallied the year
before and surpassing the 4,305
deaths noted in the 2019 report.
(Open Doors is known for favoring a
more conservative estimate than other
groups, who often tally martyrdoms
at 100,000 a year.)
Where Christians Were Martyred Most:

  1. Nigeria: 3,530
  2. Democratic Republic of Congo: 460
  3. Pakistan: 307
  4. Mozambique: 100*
  5. Cameroon: 53
  6. Burkina Faso: 38
  7. [name withheld]: 36
  8. Central African Republic: 35
  9. Mali: 33
  10. [name withheld]: 20
    *Estimate | Open Doors reporting period:
    November 2019 to October 2020
    Nine in 10 Christians killed for their
    faith were in Africa, the rest in Asia.
    Nigeria led the world with 3,530
    martyrs confirmed by Open Doors for
    its 2021 list.
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Meanwhile, attacks and forced
closures of churches numbered 4,488
worldwide, with the vast majority
recorded in China, followed by
Nigeria. In last year’s report, the tally
had skyrocketed from 1,847 to 9,488,
with China accounting for 5,576
Open Doors cautioned that in several
nations, the above violations are very
difficult to document precisely. In
these cases, round numbers are
presented, always leaning towards
conservative estimates.
Its research is certified and audited
by the International Institute for
Religious Freedom, a World
Evangelical Alliance-backed network
based in Germany.
Why are Christians
persecuted in these
The main motivation varies by
country, and better understanding
the differences can help Christians in
other nations pray and advocate
more effectively for their beleaguered
brothers and sisters in Christ.
For example, though Afghanistan is
the world’s No. 2 worst persecutor
and an officially Muslim nation, the
main motivation of persecution there
—according to Open Doors research—
is not Islamic extremism but ethnic
antagonism, or what the report calls
“clan oppression.”
Open Doors categorizes the primary
sources of Christian persecution into
eight groups:
Islamic oppression (29 countries):
This is the main source of persecution
that Christians face in more than half
of the watchlist countries, including 5
of the 12 where Christian face
“extreme” levels: Libya (No. 4),
Pakistan (No. 5), Yemen (No. 7), Iran
(No. 8), and Syria (No. 12). Most of
the 29 are officially Muslim nations or
have Muslim majorities; however, 7
actually have Christian majorities:
Nigeria (No. 9), Central African
Republic (No. 35), Ethiopia (No. 36),
Democratic Republic of Congo (No.
40), Cameroon (No. 42), Mozambique
(No. 45), and Kenya (No. 49).

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