Nigeria, India, and China are highlighted as countries of growing concern where the persecution of Christians looks set to increase in 2023, according to Release International’s latest Persecution Trends report.
UK-based Release International has just published its annual report, based on findings from its partners in the world’s worst persecution hotspots.
The country of key concern for the coming year is Nigeria, where violence is growing, along with demands to divide the nation.
There are fears that Nigeria’s presidential election is in 2023 could be a step on the way to the breakup of that nation.
‘Every indication suggests Nigeria is at a pivotal point in its history,’ says Release International’s partner in that country. ‘The election in 2023 will determine whether the nation grows as an entity or disintegrates.’
Release International partners say pressure is building from Islamists in the north, including terrorist groups, for an independent Islamic state.
The call for secession is now being echoed by Southern regional ethnic groups. They believe splitting away from Nigeria would give them autonomy from what is looking increasingly like a failed state.
Overshadowing these challenges are persistent attacks against predominantly Christian communities in the Middle Belt region. And Release International associates say persecution, which has figured predominantly in the North, is now spreading to the central and southern regions.
Terror groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa continue to defy the authorities, and Fulani militants attack Christian villages with impunity. In 2022, reports indicate Fulani extremists killed more than 6,000 Christians and destroyed 17 villages.
The violence has driven more than two million people from their homes. Along with that has come increasing lawlessness.
‘Kidnapping for ransom has now become the major money earner for terrorist groups, while the numbers of victims of rape and people living with disabilities due to attacks continue to grow among the Christian communities,’ says Release International’s partner.
‘Hundreds of thousands of children in these Christian villages are unable to go to school or access good education.’
Nigeria’s election in February will be followed in March by elections for governorships, the Assembly and the Senate. There are concerns that Nigeria’s next president may be unable to govern effectively, because of the grip of northern political Islamists on the country.
Release International’s partners in Nigeria warn: ‘Minority tribes, who are predominantly Christian, will continue to be persecuted. They will be forced to live as second-class citizens in the North, which has an agenda to make the nation an Islamic state.
‘Whichever way the election goes, Nigeria as a nation is in need of a miracle.’
Release International’s CEO Paul Robinson says: ‘Please pray for peace for the elections in 2023 and political developments that would help bring an end to the violence against Christians. Pray also for protection for Christian communities across Nigeria.’
Persecution is set to increase in China in 2023, warn Release International partners operating in that country. They believe Christians will come under even greater pressure in the coming year to demonstrate unswerving allegiance to Premier Xi Jinping by rejecting the Christian faith.
Says RI’s China partner: ‘The government under Xi Jinping want to control everything. They see Christianity as not fully under their control. Christianity is depicted as unacceptable in this atheistic Communist country.’
Official communications drum home the message that Christianity is unpatriotic, outdated, and Western in origin.
Growing numbers of evangelicals are being targeted and arrested. They face charges of belonging to cults, being corrupt, or engaged in illegal religious activity. Leaders and members of unregistered churches have been taken in by the authorities for questioning.
Many young people, teachers and parents are told religion will harm their education and they should report anyone involved in such activity.
There have also been reports of job offers being withdrawn from applicants who express their Christian beliefs.
Release International’s China partner says, ‘Please pray for Christians who are arrested and imprisoned because of their refusal to deny Christ. Pray for excellent Christian resources to reach pastors and leaders to equip them to lead their congregations – especially those that must divide into small groups.’
Persecution is set to mount in India in 2023 from Hindu extremist groups. Radical Hindus appear increasingly emboldened by the dominance of the nation’s right-wing BJP government.
More states are passing anti-conversion laws. Karnataka followed suit in September. There are concerns that a national law to limit the right to convert may follow.
As intolerance rises, reports of violent attacks against pastors and congregations continue.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India report 200 attacks on Christians in just the first five months of 2022. And over the recent Christmas period there were reports of Hindu supremacists burning effigies of Santa Claus, which they equate with Christianity, and chanting ‘Death to Jesus Christ’.
Release International’s partners say there are long-term serious medical needs among those who have been badly beaten. They also highlight a growing need for Bibles, particularly in rural areas.
They say, ‘Please pray for protection for Christians, especially pastors and church leaders. Pray for courage to persevere in an increasingly hostile environment. And pray for an end to the anti-conversion laws.’
Persecution has been increasing in Iran, where resistance is growing to the hard-line Islamic laws imposed by the regime. Iran has been convulsed by protests and calls for increased freedom. The state continues to clampdown on perceived dissent, including among its Christian minority, and is set to tighten its grip on Christian believers in 2023.
Release International’s partners describe a ‘wave of persecution against those who have converted.’ They say, ‘There is obviously a campaign to stop the spread of Christianity, to arrest those who are leading house churches and engaged in evangelism and teaching.’
In 2022, the Iranian authorities targeted Christians involved in any kind of ministry.
‘Longer prison sentences are being given to some Christian workers. There is no doubt the government of Iran is concerned that disillusioned Muslims are becoming Christians.
‘The authorities are aware of the growth in the house churches and are determined to stem that. Their overall goal is to eliminate the Persian-speaking church and only allow Christian minority groups to operate.’
The effects of the Taliban takeover in August 2021 have been felt more keenly in 2022. The Taliban’s hard-line stance became increasingly apparent, along with an upsurge in violence.
The repressive attitude towards women’s education and the decision to turn a blind eye to attacks on the Shia Muslim minority is flowing over to other groups considered to be different. These include Christians, both local and foreign.
Many Afghan Christians have fled the country or are living temporarily in neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan or Iran. Those who remain have gone into hiding. Without community support networks, they are disproportionately affected by earthquakes, the failing economy and impending famine.
Christians who have fled to Pakistan run the risk of discovery. Muslim-background believers there live in constant fear of betrayal, exposure and attack.
Release International’s partners say: ‘Please pray for converts who experience isolation and lack of Christian fellowship, and who struggle to access the Bible.
‘They cannot share their faith, for fear of reprisals. Pressure to return to their former faith communities can be intense.
‘Please also pray that the ban on Afghans travelling to neighbouring countries is lifted.’
In Malaysia, churches have suffered disproportionately from Covid restrictions. Those who have spoken out about the delayed reopening of churches have been silenced with warnings of imprisonment.
Release International’s partner says: ‘Persecution is increasing, as the government plans to form an Islamic nation and wants to be ruled by Sharia (Islamic law) only.’
Release International’s 2023 Persecution Trends report highlights the rise of Islamic extremism across Africa as a major cause for concern, especially in the Sahel region.
In Mozambique alone, thousands of Christians have been killed or driven from their homes. A similar picture is emerging in Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia.
Says associate ministry, Voice of the Martyrs USA: ‘Even in countries where Christians are in the majority, they are experiencing persecution. Sadly, that trend in places like Mozambique, Kenya, Cameroon, and Uganda is set to continue in 2023.’
Paul Robinson, CEO of Release International warns: ‘Persecution has been on the increase in recent years. 2023 looks set to continue that trend.
‘The next 12 months will be significant for large swathes of the church across the globe. Those who use violence to try to stamp out Christianity have forgotten the lesson of history. It teaches us that persecution, terrible though it is, strengthens resolve. It emboldens and refines the Church.’
Persecution Trends is published in the January 2023 edition of Release International’s Voice magazine, which is available to download here.
You can also download a pdf copy of the Persecution Trends Report here.
Release International is active in some 30 countries. It works through partners to prayerfully, pastorally, and practically support the families of Christian martyrs. It supports prisoners of faith and their families; Christians suffering oppression and violence, and those forced to flee.
Increasing numbers of Christians are now refugees. RI has launched an appeal to help Christians who have been driven from their homes. Details are available here .