News

Christianity 'by far' most persecuted global religion, UK report

Persecution of Christians worse today than any other time in history

By Stephen Cauchi

June 7 2019Christianity is “by far” the world’s most persecuted religion and killings of Christians have reached almost “genocidal” levels in some regions, according to a report commissioned by British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The Support for Persecuted Christians interim report – overseen by the Bishop of Truro in the UK, the Right Revd Philip Mounstephen – received global media coverage after it was released in early May.

The report, which is based on an independent review into the global persecution of Christians, found that roughly “one third of the world’s population suffers from religious persecution in some form, with Christians being the most persecuted group”.

“We have rightly begun this independent review by calling out the inconvenient truth that the overwhelming majority – estimated at 80 per cent – of persecuted religious believers are Christians,” says the report.

Mr Hunt, an Anglican, has made Christian persecution a major theme of his foreign secretaryship. He described the report as “truly sobering” in comments to the UK media.

“We have to recognise – and that’s what the bishop’s report points out very starkly – that Christians are the most persecuted religious group.

“We’ve all been asleep at the watch when it comes to the persecution of Christians. I think not just the bishop of Truro’s report but obviously what happened in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday has woken everyone up with an enormous shock.”

The report cited research from a number of organisations, including the Pew Research Centre and Open Doors, showing that persecution of Christians was increasing.

The report found that:

  • in the 50 countries most hostile to Christians, 245 million suffered high levels of persecution in 2019. This was 30 million higher than the previous year;
  • within five years, the number of countries classified as having “extreme persecution” of Christians rose from one (North Korea) to 11;
  • in 2016, Christians were targeted in 144 countries, up from 125 the year before.

In some regions, “the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide”.

“The main impact of such genocidal acts against Christians is exodus,” it stated. “Christianity now faces the possibility of being wiped-out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest … Christianity is at risk of disappearing.”

Persecution of Christians was at its “most virulent” in the Middle East, the report stated, particularly in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Christians made up less than 1.5 per cent of the population in Palestine; in Syria, Christians had declined from 1.7 million to below 450,000; in Iraq, from 1.5 million before 2003 to below 120,000.

“In Saudi Arabia there are strict limitations on all forms of expression of Christianity, including public acts of worship. There have been regular crackdowns on private Christian services.”

The Arab-Israeli conflict had resulted in Palestinian Christians dropping from 15 per cent of the population to 2 per cent.

Whereas 100 years ago, Christians made up 20 per cent of the population in the Middle East and North Africa, now the figure was just less than four per cent, or about 15 million.

The report quoted from a 2017 report on Christian persecution by Aid to the Church in Need, which stated that “in terms of the number of people involved, the gravity of the crimes committed and their impact, it is clear that the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history”.

It also cited the former chief rabbi of the UK, Jonathan Sacks, who told the British parliament in 2014 that Christian persecution was “one of the crimes against humanity of our time”.

“I’m appalled of the lack of protest it has evoked … what is happening to Christians in these places is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing.”

Persecution in Asia, including the world’s two most populous countries, was also on the rise.

In India, 736 attacks were recorded in 2017, up from 348 in 2016.

In China, authorities in Zheijiang province targeted up to 2000 churches between 2014 and 2016, partially or completely destroying them or removing their crosses.

The report was released on May 2, shortly after Easter attacks on Sri Lankan churches and hotels that killed over 250 people and injured over 500.

The final report is expected in June.