After two decades, there is a different country in the No. 1 spot on the Open Doors World Watch List. North Korea is no longer considered the world’s worst enemy of faith. The country of Afghanistan has moved to that position, Open Doors USA revealed on its 2022 list released Wednesday.
But it’s not because things have improved in North Korea, Open Doors officials said. The situation remains so dire in North Korea, now No. 2 on the list, that any citizen caught following Jesus is at immediate risk of imprisonment, brutal torture and death.
The shift in ranking occurred because of the Taliban takeover of the Afghanistan capital of Kabul in August 2021, which made a deadly situation for Christians even worse. Since the takeover, Afghan believers have had to leave their country or relocate internally.
“For more than 20 years, Open Doors’ World Watch List has given us a clear and current picture of religious freedom conditions,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “But this year’s findings indicate seismic changes in the persecution landscape—and challenge the United States to take action that, according to the report’s conclusions, has never been more critical.”
The situation in Afghanistan made headlines around the world, and Christian persecution is extreme in all spheres of public and private life. The risk of discovery has only increased, since the Taliban controls every aspect of government—including paperwork from international troops that may help identify Christians.
It is impossible to live openly as a Christian in Afghanistan, the Open Doors report states. Leaving Islam is considered shameful, and Christian converts face a choice if their new faith is discovered—either flee the country or be killed. This was true before the Taliban takeover. The situation has become even more dangerous for believers this year.
The Taliban will make sure that Islamic rules and customs are implemented and kept. Christian converts have no option but to obey them. If a Christian’s new faith is discovered, their family, clan or tribe has to save its honor by disowning the believer, or even killing them. Under the Taliban, this is widely considered to be justice. Alternatively, since leaving Islam is considered a sign of insanity, a Christian who has converted from Islam may be forcibly sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Afghanistan does not represent the only substantial change in this year’s ranking. Myanmar moved from No. 18 to No. 12, due largely to the violent military coup that targeted people around the country, including Christian communities. And Nigeria went up two more spots because of the rampant violence threatening Christians.
In fact, for the second year in a row, Nigeria was the most violent place in the world for Christians. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the place where the most Christians are attacked or violently abused for their faith.
In other rankings:
- Cuba entered the top 50, due to restrictive measures on churches, particularly Protestant congregations.
- Saudi Arabia’s score rose to “Extreme” levels, reflecting a reality that any Saudi who converts to Christianity from Islam is in immediate danger
- Qatar rose 11 spots on the 2022 World Watch List from last year’s list, primarily because of an increase in forced church closures. Churches that were forced to shut during the COVID-19 pandemic have been forced to remain shut even after other faith communities were allowed to reopen
- Niger jumped on the list to No. 33, due to a spike in violence and ongoing activity by radical Islamic extremists
According to the Open Doors 2022 report, which covered the period of November 2020-September 2021, more than 360 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and/or discrimination for their faith.
Thanks to the rise of the Taliban and the ongoing threats from groups like Boko Haram, al Shabab and the Islamic State group, the rise of Islamic extremists has put millions of Christians at risk in countries on the 2022 World Watch List. Seven out of the top 10 countries on the list experience some level of Islamic radicalism.
More and more Christians are driven out of their homes, communities and countries. Some remain as independently displaced people, while others are forced to cross borders and become refugees.
Photo: Courtesy of Open Doors USA