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Globally, Taliban takeover boosts jihadists’ belief in eventual success

The Taliban’s takeover of government in Afghanistan (1) gave jihadists globally a profound psychological boost. In neighbouring Pakistan, the Taliban strengthened as Islamist groups celebrated. Across Africa, jihadists see it as a matter of time before the foreign forces fighting against them leave.
Other countries notably affected are Nigeria (7), Central African Republic (31), Burkina Faso (32), Niger (33), Democratic Republic of Congo (40), Mozambique (41) and Cameroon (44).

Global Church increasingly “displaced” or “refugee” – adding to vulnerability

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says about 84 million people were forcibly displaced in 2021 within their own country, with 26 million across borders. Many of them are Christians fleeing persecution. Hundreds of thousands are affected by Islamist violence. The vast majority of Christians affected by this violence remain in their region, displaced in-country or as refugees.
Countries notably affected are Eritrea (6), Iran (9), Myanmar (12), Sudan (13), Iraq (14), Syria (15) and Jordan (39).

China’s model of control of religion leads the world

As China’s (17) economic prowess and influence grows, so has nationalism, requiring social stability, enforced from above with “orders”, rather than by choice, freedom of speech or of other belief systems.

Under Communist ideology in the Americas, the pandemic continued to be used as a pretext to surveil churches and impose greater restrictions i.e. in Cuba (37), in July, Christian leaders who spoke out for social justice were detained, tortured and fined excessively. This has been emulated in other countries like Sri Lanka, and the Central Asian states with increased restrictions on dissenters.

Other countries notably affected are Myanmar (12) and Malaysia (50).

Covid restrictions still used by authoritarian governments and criminal gangs continue to weaken the Church.  The pandemic appeared to provide “proof of concept” that digital surveillance worked sufficiently in China and is now in demand globally, particularly by other authoritarian governments. As the WWL reported last year, from West Africa to Central America, governments’ focus on fighting the pandemic enabled jihadist and organised criminal groups to further consolidate and expand their power and territorial control.

The main changes on the list since WWL 2021 are:

  • Afghanistan has risen to the no. 1 country on the WWL for the first time following the Taliban takeover in 2021, with Christians facing death when they’re discovered.
  • North Korea has reached its highest level ever of persecution but drops to no. 2 after 20 years at the top of the list.
  • Yemen has risen two places, while Iran has risen one place.
  • Nigeria again scores the maximum for violence (as in previous years), and due to pressure rising in all spheres of life has risen two places.
  • India remains at no. 10 for the fourth year in a row as far-right Hindutva organisations continue to dominate the Indian public and political life while extremists use social technology platforms to incite violence and discrimination against Christians.
  • Myanmar, which saw the military overthrow the government in 2021 and where the army has attacked Christian villages and churches, driving more than 200 000 into IDP camps, has risen six places from no. 18 to no. 12.
  • Last year’s good news, Sudan (unchanged at no. 13), has failed to see improvement in 2022 and has further destabilised following the October 2021 coup. Despite scrapping laws restricting freedom of religion, including the apostasy law, changes haven’t reached the local level.
  • While China remains at no. 17 there continues to be a deterioration in the freedom of Christians, with churches increasingly being driven underground, splitting into cell groups. Additionally, new rules for organisations and clergy were introduced in the WWL 2022 reporting period.
  • Qatar, the host for this year’s Football World Cup, has risen 11 places from no. 29 to no. 18 due to the indefinite closure of most of the villa/house churches in the country.
  • Indonesia has risen from no. 47 to no. 28, due to an increase in violence, mainly driven by two deadly attacks in Central Sulawesi and a bomb attack against the cathedral in Makassar.
  • Even though persecution has never been particularly violent in Bhutan (where converts especially face community pressure and violence – in the case of women, sexual violence), it has risen nine places from no. 43 to no. 34 due to an increase in its violence score.
  • Niger re-enters the top 50 at no. 33 due to the jihadist violence.
  • Cuba re-enters the WWL top 50 for the first time since 2012 at no. 37 due to an increase in both pressure in all spheres of life and violence. The dictatorial regime intensified its action against all Christian leaders and activists opposing Communist principles, especially after the widespread demonstrations which occurred in July 2021.

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