WASHINGTON — One-hundred percent of Christians in 21 countries around the world experience persecution for their faith in Christ as over 215 million Christians faced "high levels" of persecution in the last year, a leading human rights watchdog group reports.
Open Doors USA released on Wednesday morning its 2017 World Watch List, which is the 25th annual ranking of the top 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.
"2016 was the worst year of persecution on record with a shocking 215 million Christians experiencing high levels of persecution for their faith," Open Doors USA CEO David Curry asserted during a press conference at the National Press Club.
"It is worth repeating that nearly one in every 12 Christians today lives in an area or culture in which Christianity is illegal, forbidden or punished. Yet, today the world is largely silent on the shocking wave of religious intolerance," he continued. "The 2017 World Watch List and the information it represents presents one of the most complex and pressing challenges to President-elect Donald Trump and his administration."
According to a fact sheet provided by Open Doors, the organization documented as many as 1,207 Christians who were killed around the globe for faith-related reasons during the 2017 list's reporting period — Nov. 1, 2015, to Oct. 31, 2016.
However, that number is a conservative estimate since it doesn't include statistics from the list's No. 1 persecutor of Christians for the last 16 years — North Korea — and areas of Iraq and Syria. Additionally, there were likely many other Christian killings that went unreported.
The ministry also documented over 1,329 churches around the globe that were attacked or damaged.
"In the top 21 countries on the Open Doors World Watch List, 100 percent of Christians experience persecution," the fact sheet states. "Christians are a minority in all countries on the list, accounting for only 13 percent of the total population."
The top 21 countries on the list include in this order: North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Eritrea, Libya, Nigeria, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, India, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Kenya, Turkmenistan, Qatar and Egypt.
In North Korea, Christians are prohibited from practicing their faith and can be killed or jailed for simply owning a Bible. As the Communist Kim regime forces citizens to accept the cultic belief that the Kim family is divine, thousands of Christians have been killed and entire families have been thrown into torturous labor "reeducation" camps for practicing their faith or trying to defect.
Although little is reported about the persecution in Somalia, Curry said that no organized church is allowed to be established in the country and every citizen of Somalia is registered as Muslim despite what they believe.
"Small groups of Christians remain even though nobody knows the secret of their faith," Curry explained. "If their faith is discovered it means instant death, executed without trial and often on rumor alone."
Pakistan ranked as the fourth worst country in the world for Christians, which is the highest the Muslim-majority country has ranked on the World Watch List.
Christians in Pakistan are subject the public ridicule and are often accused of the capital offense of blasphemy by Muslims looking to settle personal scores. Additionally, hundreds of Christian girls and women in Pakistan are kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic marriage. Police protection of the Christian community is inadequate and Muslim persecutors are often granted a level of impunity.
The fact sheet states that "Pakistan had the most overall violence against Christians."
"Cities have been burned to the ground, people have been roasted alive, girls are increasingly being raped and forced into Islamic marriage in attempts by Muslims to gain a special place in Heaven through proselytizing in this manner," Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, told CP on Wednesday. "Government and statutory authority inactivity have built a sense of impunity for crimes against Christians."
It's no secret that Christians have been direly persecuted in the Middle Eastern nations of Iraq and Syria, considering the rise of the Islamic State terrorist organization forced hundreds of thousands of Christians to flee their homes or risk being killed by the Islamic death cult.
As very few Christians remained in the Nineveh Plains of Iraq until Iraqi-coalition forces began a liberation effort there in October, there is serious concern that Iraqi Christians could become extinct in their ancient homelands if nothing is done to assure that they will be protected if they return.
While Christians continue to languish in displacement camps in Kurdistan and neighboring Middle Eastern countries, Congressman Chris Smith, R-N.J., told the press conference that the United States government has gone "AWOL" when it comes to helping displaced and persecuted Iraqi Christians.
Smith said he recently visited the U.S. General Consulate in Erbil, which he says is about a 10-minute drive from a major displacement camp where thousands of Christians are being housed.
"The United States government has not been helpful to the Christians that have fled Mosul in the Nineveh Plain. We have been AWOL when it comes to humanitarian aid," Smith said. "I went to a camp that I was told I couldn't go to because it was so dangerous. So, I went without the consulate general or the diplomatic security people only to find 6,000 wonderful families and clergy that were helping these people who are really on the edge, physically, with not even food, medicine and shelter."
"If it wasn't for the Christian community rallying for them, raising approximately $30 million, there would have been deaths and sicknesses. The camp is about 10 minutes max by car away from the consulate's office and no one had been there from the embassy or the consulate, except one who went almost before I went. Are you kidding?" Smith asked. "I had nine hearings on the genocide against Christians — nine of them. ... They left 70,000 Christians in Erbil with no help by the United Nations and the United States government."
Also speaking at the press conference was Knox Thames, the State Department's special advisor for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, who was asked by The Christian Post to respond to Smith's complaint and answer why the U.S. government hasn't done more to help Iraqi Christians.
"I can speak to what we [the State Department Office of International Religious Freedom] have been doing. We met with the Christian leadership — Archbishop Warda [of Erbil] and [a bishop from] the Assyrian Church of the East — to hear those concerns. We have had conversations with USAID about how we can get resources to the Christian community," he responded. "But this is also in the context of incredible need and not enough resources and that has been the challenge that we have had to navigate. This is something that is very much on our radar screen and will continue to follow it across the transition."