Christians living in Islamic countries as well as in the world's two most populous countries of India and China are set to face heightened threats of violent persecution at the hands of both state and non-state actors in 2017, Release International has warned.
The U.K.-based group's annual Persecution Trends report says that apart from the rise of brutalities against Christians in the Middle East, there's a reason to worry about the safety of Christians also in India and China.
"In India, recorded attacks from Hindu militants have increased dramatically, and in China, pressure is building on unregistered churches," Release International says.
"Around the world Christians face an increasing array of violent persecutors. These include the brutal Islamic State in the Middle East, heavily armed militants in Nigeria and Hindu extremists in India," says Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson, adding that the trend should serve as "a wake-up call to take our prayers and practical support for our persecuted family to a new level."
The refugee crisis in the regions neighbouring conflict-ridden Syria and Iraq is likely to continue in 2017, the group says, noting that one focus will be Kurdistan in northern Iraq, which is now home to nearly 2 million internally displaced people, including Christians.
The Islamic State terror group, also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, has tortured, sexually abused and even crucified those who refuse to renounce their faith in Syria and Iraq.
Persecution in the Shia Muslim nation of Iran is also on the rise, and the clampdown on underground churches will likely carry on, the group warns.
In Nigeria, Christian communities in north and central parts continue to face widespread violence at the hands of heavily armed Fulani militants. The military defeat the Boko Haram group is suffering has not brought down the suffering of Christians there, the group adds.
In Pakistan, Christians have been suffering accusations of blasphemy and bombings, the group notes.
In India, the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India recorded 134 attacks on Christians or churches in the first half of 2016 alone, which is close to the annual totals for both 2014 and 2015 combined, the group noted, adding that attacks on Christians will likely continue to rise in 2017.
In China, the Communist government's 2016 draft Regulations on Religious Affairs looks set to increase the pressure on unregistered churches in particular. "China's policy of Sinicisation to make the Church somehow more Chinese in character — looks set to bite down harder in the new year."
On the U.N.'s International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of Genocide last month, other persecution watchdogs also said that Christians continued to be some of the most widely targeted people.
London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide called for the "perpetrators of crimes against humanity" in North Korea and Eritrea to be held to account.
Last month, Pope Francis said the church has more martyrs today than the early church did.
"But why does the world persecute Christians?" the pontiff asked. "The world hates Christians for the same reason it hated Jesus: because He brought the light of God and the world prefers the darkness to hide its wicked works."