Afghanistan sits at the top of a new ranking of the world's worst countries for Christian persecution after President Joe Biden's disastrous military withdrawal and the Taliban's subsequent takeover of the nation.
Open Doors USA, an organization that tracks global religious persecution, has published its 2022 World Watch List ranking the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
In what Open Doors USA CEO David Curry called the "biggest seismic shift" in decades, Afghanistan replaced North Korea as the most repressive and hostile country towards followers of Jesus. The communist North Korean regime had ranked as the worst country for Christian persecution for 20 years.
“This year’s 2022 World Watch List, we think, is the biggest seismic shift in over 20 years because Afghanistan is now the No. 1 country on the World Watch List, supplanting North Korea,” Curry told Faithwire in an interview.
In a bid to finally end the American war in Afghanistan, Biden set a deadline to withdraw U.S. combat forces from the country by the end of August 2020. But his pullout from the country was a colossal failure of planning and execution.
Despite the president's assurances that the Afghanistan government would be able to fight the Taliban on its own, the Islamic terrorist group swiftly took over the country, stunning administration officials. Thousands of U.S. residents and Afghani allies were stranded in the country after U.S. evacuation efforts failed to get everyone out before Biden withdrew troops. Those left behind included Christians who were in grave danger of persecution from the Taliban's Islamist regime.
“Many people are aware of what’s happened since August in Afghanistan,” Curry told Faithwire. “It has emboldened Islamic extremists in other parts of the world. We believe it’s going to have a ripple effect.”
He said that Christians, in particular Christian women, are "targeted" by jihadists.
“The Taliban’s interpretation of Islam considers Christians to be traitors, enemies of the state, enemies of the tribe and community. They are infidels from Islam, and in their mind, the punishment is death,” Curry explained at a press conference announcing the release of Open Doors USA's report. He observed that Taliban extremists obtained a list of prominent Christians in Afghanistan last September and began hunting them. “Every Christian who remains in Afghanistan is either on the run or in hiding.”
He cited reports that Islamic authoritarians are going door to door looking for "unwanted elements" in their country, including anyone who collaborated with Western countries and Christians.
“Progress made over the last two decades on rights and protections for women has dramatically deteriorated since the Taliban took over,” Curry said. “The world must speak out on the horrendous treatment of women in extremist Islamic societies and in particular, wake up to the fact that Christian women are the most vulnerable group in the world today."
Open Doors USA says there are more than 360 million Christians living in fear of violent persecution, numbering 1 in 7 believers worldwide. The group's report counted 5,110 churches or Christian buildings attacked, 6,175 Christians detained for their faith, and 5,989 Christians killed for faith-related reasons last year.
While North Korea fell to number two on the watch list, the group said persecution there "remains absolute in every area of life" and has reached the highest levels recorded in the country.
“For 20 years, North Korea was number one. They have a post-communist … system that has been generational,” Curry told Faithwire. “They have lifted now Kim Jung Un as the dictator. People are forced to worship him.”
“It’s clear that they don’t want any other faith except the worship of their leader and the communist system…they control all the means of life," he added.
Sub-Saharan Africa ranked as the most violent place in the world for Christians, with jihadist violence in Nigeria, the DRC, and the Central African Republic accounting for 79% of the nearly 6,000 Christians martyred for their faith last year.
India, Myanmar, and China were also listed as countries where noteworthy persecution of Christians exists. Hindu nationalists in India have attacked Christians, and the state has advanced anti-conversion laws designed to penalize and even imprison anyone found to have used "force" or "fraudulent" methods to convert others from one religion to another. These laws are abused by false witnesses who claim Christians are violating the prohibitions on conversion.
Open Doors USA said the military coup in Myanmar has led to increased violence against Christians in that nation, as political paranoia has led military leaders to believe churches are gathering places for opposition to the regime.
As for China, though it ranks 17th on the list, the group said its widespread use of censorship and technological repression has harmed the growth of the church and influenced other countries that are hostile to Christianity.