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Media release: Rapid rise in persecution of Christians worldwide

Militants and autocratic regimes intensify danger in sub-Saharan Africa

Open Doors International released its 2024 World Watch List (WWL)* on 17 January 2024. This annual list, which is now in its 31st year, again shows the top 50 countries where Christians experience the worst persecution for their faith and creates awareness of the hardships that persecuted Christians face every day. Countries are ranked by the severity of persecution and discrimination endured by the Christians who live in them.

In this worldwide survey the overall trend shows that the persecution of Christians has risen at an alarming rate all over the world, especially in Africa.

During the past year, several shocking incidents of persecution in Africa reached the news headlines, including some horrific events in Nigeria. Gunmen from Fulani militant gangs killed at least 200 people in Christian dominated villages in Plateau State, Nigeria. More than 300 people were also injured in the attack, which targeted at least 36 villages across the region, and thousands of homesteads were destroyed. The well-coordinated attack started on Christmas eve and continued until the early hours of 26 December 2023.

During April to June 2023, intensified attacks on Christian communities in Plateau State have left more than 340 people dead and 80 000 displaced. A total of 54 villages had been attacked in this serious wave of violence and nearly daily attacks, which happened mostly in the Mangu Local Government Area.


Alarming statistics

More than 365 million Christians face high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith (up from last year’s figure of 360 million). This number represents one in seven Christians worldwide, up from one in eight three years ago. In the WWL top 50 countries alone, 317 million Christians face very high or extreme levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith.

Over the 31 years of Open Doors’ World Watch List reporting, the number of countries where Christians face extreme, very high or high levels of persecution nearly doubled from 40 countries in 1993 to 78 countries in 2024. It can be divided as follows:

  • Extreme levels of persecution: Numbers 1 to 13.
  • Very high levels of persecution: Numbers 14 to 57.
  • High levels of persecution: Numbers 58 to 78.

Some of the biggest concerns on this year’s list are the violence against Christians in sub-Saharan Africa that has reached new heights, the influence of radical Islamic elements and autocratic regimes exploiting unstable political conditions across the African continent, the Wagner Group invading Mali, the rise of violence against Christians in India, the increase in church attacks in China, India and several other countries, and the rapid rise in persecution in Nicaragua.


Top 5 countries

North Korea once again holds the number one spot on the World Watch List. Here Christians are forced to practise their faith in complete secrecy. Reports of raids rarely reach the international media, but one example became known in April 2023 when five Christians gathered in a remote farmhouse in central North Korea for prayer – only to find police had been tipped off by an informant and were waiting for them. The five arrested Christians will now face years of hard labour.

Somalia is once again in the second position this year – the same as last year. It is followed by Libya in third place, Eritrea in fourth place and Yemen in fifth place.


WWL 2024 in numbers

The most important trends of the 2024 WWL are: 

  • A total of 4 998 Christians were killed worldwide in faith-related attacks. Figures likely run much higher, but many go unreported.
  • Seven-fold increase in attacks on churches, Christian schools and hospitals from 2 110 in 2023 to 14 766 in 2024.
  • Christians beaten or threatened increased from 29 411 reported cases in 2023 to 42 849 in 2024.
  • Attacks on homes rose 371% from the 2023 figures (4 547 to 21 431).
  • Christians forced out of their homes or into hiding more than doubled from 124 310 to 278 716.
  • A total of 365 million Christians (one in seven worldwide) face high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith – up from last year’s figure of 360 million.
  • Five out of the top 10 countries on the 2024 WWL are in Africa.


Trends in sub-Saharan Africa

The 2024 World Watch List particularly highlights the plight of Christians in sub-Saharan Africa, with violence against them reaching alarming new levels as violent Islamic militants destabilise the region. It is most extreme in Nigeria (6), where militants from Fulani, Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and others conduct raids on Christian communities, killing, maiming, raping and kidnapping for ransom or sexual slavery.

Islamic militants and autocratic regimes intensify the danger for sub-Saharan African Christians. More than 82% of Christians killed across the globe for faith reasons were in Nigeria and faith-related killings in sub-Saharan Africa far outstripped those of any other region on the annual list. This has been a trend for several years.

As in the previous year, Nigeria accounted for about nine of every ten religiously motivated killings in Africa’s World Watch List countries. However, the number of killings in these countries is likely to be much higher because in conflict and in the aftermath of conflict it is difficult to get reliable reports on the impact of violence.

Intense violence in Ethiopia (32) saw the number of attacks on churches and schools grow sharply. There was also a surge upwards in the number of Christian-owned businesses burned, looted or confiscated in Burkina Faso (20) and Central African Republic (28).

These trends were mirrored elsewhere in Africa and other countries ranked on the annual list as attacks surged globally.

At least 4 606 Christians were killed because of their faith in 18 out of the 26 countries on the World Watch List that are south of the Sahara Desert. A total of 15 of these 26 countries reached the highest level in the score for overall violence. At least 16,2 million Christians in sub-Saharan Africa were displaced by violence at the end of 2022.


Radical Islamic elements and autocratic regimes

Radical Islamic elements exploiting unstable political conditions is a common thread across the African continent. The fractures in governance and security have opened the door for the jihadist activities seen, for example, in Burkina Faso (20), Mali (14), Mozambique (39), Nigeria (6) and Somalia (2).

“The threat from Islamic militants in sub-Saharan Africa has intensified to the point where many Christians in the region increasingly have to live in fear,” says Frans Veerman, managing director of Open Doors World Watch Research.

“Christians are purposefully targeted or are extra vulnerable in a continent that is beset by the twin problems of radical Islamic elements and increasingly autocratic regimes. This is the ever-growing threat for Christians south of the Sahara Desert and, if left unchecked, these twin pressures are expected to overwhelm them and force them out of their homes and villages.

“Governments in the region need to take meaningful action to address the growing influence of jihadist groups and prioritise protecting the vulnerable from aggressors. Without this action, once thriving Christian communities will disappear.”


Mali and the Wagner Group

When French troops moved out of Mali in 2022, the Wagner Group moved onto their bases. Their influence has significantly stifled the civic space for Christians. Speaking out against governmental injustices or the brutalities perpetrated by the Wagner Group has become dangerous.

The private army has not stopped Islamic militants, traffickers and organised crime syndicates, which resulted in Christians in Mali often gathering under police protection. The government sphere of influence is diminishing rapidly, which is a worrying trend.


Brutal conflict in India
There was a substantial rise in the number of Christians killed in India (11) and the number of churches, Christian schools and homes attacked during the WWL 2024 reporting period. The epicentre of the surge in violence and displacement has been the northeastern state of Manipur, where hostilities between the majority Meitei and minority Kuki ethnic groups erupted in May 2023. What began as a dispute between ethnic groups took on a disturbing religious dimension as Christians were targeted across the ethnic groups.

The violence left 160 Christians dead, and thousands chased from their homes to find shelter elsewhere after watching their homes burn down. The emergence of a horrific video showing two naked women from the majority-Christian Kuki tribe being paraded and molested by a mob in the violence-hit Indian state of Manipur highlighted how women often pay a high price during conflict.

India in numbers:

  • A nine-fold increase in Christian fatalities since WWL 2023: 17 to 160.
  • Extreme rise in attacks on churches and Christian schools from 67 last year to 2 228 this year.
  • The number of Christian homes attacked in the WWL 2022 reporting period was 91. It doubled to 180 the following year and the WWL 2024 figure is 5 900.

More than 62 000 Indian Christians were forced to leave their homes during the WWL 2024 reporting period. That was an exponential jump from 380 on the 2022 list and 834 on the 2023 list.


Church closures and attacks
China (19) and India (11) were the worst offenders regarding church closures and attacks. Figures show that an estimated 10 000 churches in China were closed and 2 228 in India attacked. These two countries make up nearly 83% of all the closure/attack incidents on churches in all countries on the 2024 list.

China closed thousands of churches through a set of old and new authoritarian measures. Large unregistered “house churches”, which had been meeting in hotels or office blocks, have been forced to splinter into a myriad of less visible house groups, and many of the venues for state-approved churches were forced to close and merge with larger churches.

By contrast, church attacks in India are perpetrated by aggressive mobs. According to Archbishop Dominic Lupon of Imphal, 249 churches were destroyed in the first 36 hours of the Manipur violence.

Church attacks in Angola (71), Burkina Faso (20), Ethiopia (32), Nicaragua (30), Nigeria (6), Niger (27), Rwanda (63) and Sudan (8) were also particularly high.


Rapid rise of persecution in Nicaragua
Communist dictatorships in Latin America are increasingly hostile to the Church. Nicaragua (30) is no exception, jumping 20 places higher on the list. Daniel Ortega’s government has become more overt in how it represses religious freedom. In February 2023 the bishop of Matagalpa, Rolando Álvarez, a vocal defender of civic freedoms, was stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Lynette Leibach, executive director of Open Doors Southern Africa, says: “As we return to work, school and normal life after the holidays, the research shows the severe situation faced by more and more of our Christian family – especially on our continent.

“I am again challenged that behind each statistic is an individual adult or child, family and community where life doesn’t continue unabated. Standing alongside them in word and deed is a matter of urgency.”


About the WWL and how the figures are collected

The first WWL was produced in January 1993. Countries’ overall persecution scores are an amalgamation of six different scores: Pressure levels in private life, family life, community life and national life, and of church communities, along with violence levels. Government restrictions and the amount of social hostility towards Christians are also taken into account. This year’s list covers the period from 1 October 2022 to 30 September 2023.

Released at the beginning of each year, the list uses extensive research, data from Open Doors field workers, their in-country networks, external experts and persecution analysts to quantify and analyse persecution worldwide. Each edition is audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom.


More information

Visit to view and download the full 2024 World Watch List, the top 50 country profiles and persecution statistics, as well as the top 50 countries’ media and advocacy dossiers.

For any questions about the 2024 World Watch List, the research methodology or to arrange an interview, please contact Elizabeth Botha, media officer, at [email protected], 083 227 8164 or 011 888 9341.

Open Doors Southern Africa (ODSA) forms part of the Open Doors International ministry, which strengthens and supports persecuted Christians in over 70 countries across the world by delivering Bibles and Christian literature, visiting persecuted Christians, providing discipleship and training, offering practical support such as food, medicine, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, spiritual support, and speaking out and raising awareness through advocacy. The organisation has 25 national bases that has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for more than 60 years.


Media release issued by Elizabeth Botha

Media officer: Open Doors Southern Africa

Tel: 083 227 8164 / (011) 888 9341

Email: [email protected]

 *WWL country rankings in brackets throughout the document.

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