Afghanistan has unseated North Korea for the dubious distinction of the most dangerous country in the world for Christians, according to a group that reports on global Christian persecution.
A takeover of the government by the Taliban has made it even harder — now, impossible— to live openly as a Christian, advocacy group Open Doors writes in its annual World Watch List.
“The Taliban will make sure that Islamic rules and customs are implemented and kept. Christian converts don’t have any option but to obey them. If a Christian’s new faith is discovered, their family, clan or tribe has to save its honor by disowning the believer, or even killing them. This is widely considered to be justice,” the group writes.
“Alternatively, since leaving Islam is considered a sign of insanity, a Christian who has converted from Islam may be forcibly sent to a psychiatric hospital.”
Afghanistan is over 99% Muslim, with the majority being Sunni. There are small groups of Christians, including about 200 Catholics, as well as Buddhists, Hindus, and Baháʼís.
Overall, 360 million Christians worldwide face persecution, according to Open Doors, an increase of 20 million from last year.
The group had cited North Korea as the most “extreme” persecutor of Christians for twenty years prior to this year’s ranking.
The “top ten” countries with the most Christian persecution this year are Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, and India.
North Korea’s level of persecution increased this year, even as its ranking went down, the group reported. The groups says “any North Korean caught following Jesus is at immediate risk of imprisonment, brutal torture and death” at the hands of the communist government.
Nigeria, which ranks number seven on the list, no longer appears on the U.S. State Department’s list of “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC), a watchlist of countries with the most egregious violations of religious freedom.
Nigeria was listed in 2020, but the country was not included in the 2021 list, released in mid-November. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had been recommending the designation of Nigeria as a CPC since 2009.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a Nov. 18-19 visit to Nigeria to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari, but it remains unclear why the State Department removed Nigeria from the watchlist.