An international religious freedom watchdog group has identified Nigeria as the “most dangerous place to be a Christian.”
In its 88-page report, titled “2023 Persecutors of the Year,” International Christian Concern (ICC)—a team of global staffers and Washington, D.C.-based analysts of countries with the worst religious freedom records—states that “Nigeria is arguably the most dangerous place to be a Christian in the world today.”
Despite Nigeria’s dismal record, the Biden State Department in 2021 removed its designation as a Country of Particular Concern—a moniker given to the worst violators. Nigeria is home to terrorist groups such as Boko Haram that have been responsible for more than 38,000 deaths in the past 12 years, as well as regional al-Qaida and Islamic State groups and militant Fulani herdsmen. The report cites Nigeria’s enforcement of Sharia law in 12 northern states as a primary means of persecution.
ICC has documented 55 attacks in Nigeria causing the deaths of 549 Christians from March 4 to July 6, as well as the burning of a Catholic seminary and killing of a seminarian in Kaduna State, and the overnight murder of more than 20 people in a Plateau State village by Fulani Muslim militants in August.
“Whether the world acknowledges the plight of Nigerian Christians or not, the country has become a burial ground for Christians,” ICC’s report states. “Nigeria is a country torn by violence. From large, organized terror groups to small, disconnected communal militias, the violence in Nigeria is endemic.”
Other countries identified in the report among the world’s most religiously oppressive nations are:
- Iran. Ali Khamenei, the Grand Ayatollah and Supreme Leader of Iran, heads an Islamic republic, “harshly eliminating political and religious resistance to its hardline adherence to Islam,” the report states. Christians and others accused of violating Sharia law are subject to imprisonment and torture.
- Pakistan. While the U.S. has named Pakistan as a “Country of Particular Concern,” Pakistan’s state endorsement of Islam and its blasphemy laws have continued to contribute to intolerance and persecution. “Authorities use blasphemy laws to legitimize persecution and force conversions across society to suppress Christians and other religious minorities,” the ICC report states. “Pakistan is one of only a handful of countries around the world with the death penalty for speaking against Islam.”
- Eritrea. A 2022 government decree that required all religious groups to register led to the closing of all houses of worship except for Islam, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Eritrean Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church. “In Eritrea, those wishing to worship outside the narrow confines established by the government face severe penalties including torture, imprisonment and death,” the report states.
- Algeria. The government shuttered dozens of congregations affiliated with the Protestant Church of Algeria, and the nation continues to enforce blasphemy laws in its penal code, ICC reports.
- Indonesia. Islamist extremists target religious minorities in Indonesia, using blasphemy laws to intimidate and suppress non-Muslim religious practice, the ICC report states.
- Azerbaijan. Viewing Armenian culture and Christianity as synonymous, Azerbaijan officials have destroyed historical churches. “Azerbaijan’s end game is clear: to rid its borders of Christianity—either by forcing the Armenian people and their faith out of Azerbaijan or destroying the people and historical sites,” the report states.
The ICC report also identified six entities as the world’s worst in terms of oppressing religious freedom and religious minorities. They are: Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamic State-affiliated group operating in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; Al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-affiliated jihadist group in Somalia and northeastern Kenya; Fulani militants, killing Christians in the Middle Belt of Nigeria; Sahel terror groups, conducting jihadist attacks in Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region; the Taliban in Afghanistan; and the Tatmadaw Burmese military in Myanmar.
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