Christian persecution in 2021 is set to rise in China and India, forecasts Release International, which has just published its annual Persecution Trends survey.
Release International supports persecuted Christians around the world. ‘Our partners tell us that attacks are on the rise under Communism in China, Islam in Iran and Malaysia, and under militant Hinduism in India,’ says Release CEO Paul Robinson.
‘Yet despite persecution and pandemic, we see clear evidence of the boldness, courage and trust in God of Christians under pressure around the world.’
Persecution is thriving in Communist China, which has bought the silence of the international community through increased dependence on trade, according to the report.
Release International’s partners warn: ‘The government of President Xi Jinping is increasing its “clean up” of anything that does not advance the communist agenda. They appear to believe that they can achieve this by systematic opposition.’
Tough new laws controlling religion have been imposed. Non-registered churches have been raided and closed in 2020, and increasing numbers of registered churches have been made to install CCTV cameras and put up posters proclaiming communist ideals and beliefs.
According to Release International’s partners, the Chinese authorities ‘have bought freedom from censure due to trade with China. Many countries now regard this trade as essential to their own economies.’
In common with a number of persecuting nations, China has been exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to tighten restrictions on underground believers.
‘The Chinese Government is trying every way to take advantage of the virus by increasing the crackdown against Christian churches,’ says Release partner Bob Fu, of ChinaAid. ‘It has accelerated particular campaigns, such as the forced removal of crosses.’
Bob Fu’s work has come under direct pressure as a result of a bizarre campaign targeting Chinese exiles in many countries. Even in the United States he has faced bomb threats and been forced to seek police protection, but says the work of ChinaAid will not be stopped.
Covid has also been used as a cover for increasing persecution in Malaysia, believe Release partners working in that country.
‘The newly formed government is using the outbreak of Covid for their purposes. They have closed churches all over the country, where persecution is definitely increasing.’
Release International is petitioning the Malaysian authorities to release Pastor Raymond Koh, who was abducted off the street in a military-style operation.
Malaysian Christians from a Muslim background have experienced the sharpest persecution, which is likely to increase in 2021.
However, coronavirus has also presented opportunities for the underground church in nations hostile to the Christian faith.
In North Korea, one of the harshest environments in the world for Christians, believers have viewed the coronavirus as an act of God that opens new opportunities for them, states Release International’s partner.
‘This has been the most creative year we have witnessed in the underground church to date.’
During 2020, despite the Covid restrictions, Release partners were able to double their distribution of Bibles to Christians in North Korea.
And in Iran, where the church is growing, increasing numbers of Christians were able to avoid government surveillance by meeting online.
‘Persecution is on the increase in Iran because the authorities are aware of the growth in the number of converts and house churches. They are determined at all costs to stem this,’ say Release International’s partners.
‘There is no doubt that the government is concerned that disillusioned Muslims are becoming Christians.’
The pressure on Christians in Iran is likely to continue, leading to a further exodus of Christians from the country in 2021.
Another Islamic nation where persecution is a major concern for the coming year is Pakistan.
Release partners say the blasphemy laws continued to be widely misused against Christians and other minorities – often to settle personal scores. In addition, the Christian community is facing the abduction, rape, and enforced conversion and marriage of Christian girls.
This trend has also been noted in Egypt, home to the largest Christian population in the Arab world. Again, it is Christians from a Muslim background who bear the brunt of persecution.
Converts face expulsion from their families, divorce, estrangement from their children and loss of employment.
Other countries of concern to Release International for 2021 include Nigeria and India.
In Nigeria, where Christians have long been at risk from the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, they face a growing threat from heavily armed Fulani militants.
Release partners believe these attacks are increasingly taking on the characteristic of a jihad – to which the international community is turning a blind eye.
‘We have seen well-planned, well-orchestrated, systematic attacks on Christian communities that have nothing to do with a fight for grazing lands,’ said Release partner Rev Hassan John.
‘These attacks are driven by an Islamist ideology, aimed at destroying “the infidels” and, in many places, displacing them from their communities, while the government, by design or omission, turns a blind eye to the carnage.’
Another Release partner in Nigeria, Mark Lipdo, adds: ‘The failure of governance has led to increased criminality with impunity.’
As a result, Christians have suffered increasing attacks, including robbery and kidnapping for ransom. Unless the authorities hold the perpetrators accountable and take measures to protect vulnerable communities, the violence against Christians is set to continue throughout 2021.
In India, Christians and other minorities fear religious intolerance will continue to grow during 2021, largely due to growing Hindu nationalism.
Hindu extremists attacked churches and individual believers throughout 2020.
According to India’s Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Christians suffered 225 incidents of religiously motivated violence during the first ten months of 2020 – compared to 218 incidents in the same period in 2019. Many of these attacks were by vigilante mobs.
In September 2020, Hindu extremists incited mobs of up to 3,000 people to attack Christians in three villages in Chhattisgarh state.
The growing intolerance towards Christianity has been marked since the coming to power of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in 2014. According to Release partners, there has been a significant rise in the number of attacks against Christians following the subsequent landslide victory of BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2019.
The Persecution Trends survey is published in the latest of edition of Release International’s Voice magazine, available shortly here
Through its international network of missions, Release International is active in some 25 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.