Pakistan (No. 6) rose to its highest levels of persecution ever. According to a fact sheet provided by Open Doors, Pakistan and Nigeria are the two countries where the "most intensive violence against Christians took place."
Pakistan's blasphemy and apostasy laws are often used to lynch and imprison Christians and religious minorities, while the justice system typically does little to hold perpetrators accountable. Saudi Arabia (No. 14) and Egypt (No. 22) also have a history of using blasphemy and apostasy laws to persecute religious minorities.
"Religious freedom is threatened by the impact of blasphemy laws or apostasy laws in countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan and in a number of others as well as laws that purport to protect religious sentiments from offense," David Saperstein, U.S. State Department's Ambassador at-large for International Religious Freedom, said at the press conference.
"They are too often used by individuals to justify violence in the name of religion or as a false pretense for which they seek to settle personal grievances," Saperstein continued. "When governments stand by such actions, such laws create an atmosphere of impunity for those individuals or societal groups who resort to violence and helps explain the numbers of death that have been alluded to in this report."
Saperstein, who is a rabbi and was nominated to his position by President Barack Obama in 2014, praised the Open Doors report as being "vital" to the defense of religious liberty worldwide.
"[The World Watch List] is an important guide for those of us in government to understand the current situation facing Christians around the world and highlights the specific abuses that they suffer and helps us in promoting accountability for governments and societal actors who engage in persecution," Saperstein said. "Reports like this are vital to advancing our shared goal of protecting religious freedom around the globe."