Worst Christian Persecution in Over 20 Years Marks Last Year; ISIS, Islamic Extremism Mostly to Blame, Finds Open Doors Report

(Photo: Reuters/Jamal Saidi)Iraqi Christian refugees attend a service at a church in Hazmiyeh, near Beirut, Lebanon, December 12, 2014. Iraqi Christians who sought refuge in Lebanon after Islamist militants tore through their homeland said they had no idea when they would be able to return as they gathered for prayers ahead of Christmas.

WASHINGTON – Last year saw the highest level of persecution of Christians the world has seen since the fall of the Soviet Union, according to a report by a Christian persecution watchdog group released Wednesday.

Open Doors USA highlighted that in the 24 years that Open Doors has been tracking numbers on global persecution, 2014 was the most violent year of Christian persecution and was far worse than the year before. 

"Perhaps most chilling is the fact that all the factors, all of the issues that made this a violent year for Christian persecution are still in place," said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors, at the press conference.

"During the past reporting period we can confirm that 4,344 people were executed or murdered for their faith in Jesus Christ. Over twice that of the previous reporting period."

(Photo: The Christian Post)David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, giving remarks at the release of the 2015 World Watch List at the Edward R. Murrow Room in the National Press Building in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, January 7, 2015.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Curry explained that the common thread in both the state-sponsored and terrorist-based persecution documented was "ideology."

"There are indications that there are some nationalistic movements like Eritrea where the government itself has adopted the ideology," said Curry.

"But often it is not government-sponsored but it is allowed within certain regions in government by terrorist groups. So the common thread is the ideology."

Curry's remarks came as he presented Open Doors' annual World Watch List, a ranking of the fifty nations that are most hostile towards Christians.

The rankings are based off of confirmed reports of intolerance towards Christian populations and make note of both state-sponsored and popular persecution.

For the thirteenth year in a row, North Korea sits in the number one spot. The Communist state was labeled the nation where Christian persecution is most severe.

Following North Korea in the top ten in order of appearance were Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, and Nigeria.

With the exceptions of Mexico and Colombia, all of the fifty nations on the World Watch List were located in Africa, Asia, or the Indian Ocean.

"This is largest jump in violence in persecution of Christians in the modern era. Certainly in the time we've been studying," said Curry to CP.

In addition to Curry, the press conference also included remarks from Nina Shea, senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and director of its Center for Religious Freedom, and Damaris Atsen, Nigerian Christian wife and mother whose husband was killed by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram.

In her remarks, Shea spoke about the three major driving forces of Christian persecution in the modern world, which were post-Soviet Union Communist states, nationalistic ideologies, and Islamic extremism as seen in most of the states found on the World Watch List's top 50 list.

A major impact on the OD rankings in this year's list is the activities of Islamic State, or ISIS, in the Middle East.

Although ISIS has been condemned by Muslim religious leaders in nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Shea believed these entities' strict Islamic ideology helped to create the ISIS group. Shea noted in her remarks that governments like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had for decades promoted a strict interpretation of Islam in schools across the Middle East.

In an interview with CP, Shea explained that while ISIS was an offshoot of al Qaida, ultimately the Saudi Kingdom's ideological campaign in the region contributing to their creation.

"Saudi Arabia has been very counterproductive in its actions. Funding and encouraging and spreading an ideology of hate," said Shea. "Saudi Arabia did create its own monster … Because now it feels very threatened by this movement itself and is flying sorties over Syria and Iraq."

Other findings by Open Doors include the continent of Africa having the most nations move up the World Watch List, Islamic extremism being the lead source of persecution in 40 of the 50 countries, and the most intense anti-Christian violence being in Nigeria, Syria, and Iraq.

(Photo: Screen grab via YouTube/AFP News Agency)A screen grab from new video showing about 100 of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14, 2014.