Open Doors: a look back at 30 years of persecution of Christians around the world


The NGO Portes Ouvertes, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, presented on January 17 its global report on the violence and discrimination suffered by Christians, especially over the past 30 years.

It is at the Maison d'Alsace, in Paris, that Open House presented its report which comes out at the beginning of each year. The Index, intended for parliamentarians, the media and the general public, has compiled and analyzed since 1993 the evolution of persecution in the world, country by country. On the occasion of this tri-decadal anniversary, the NGO not only addressed the situation of the last year, as well as the changes known for 30 years. And they are generally not positive.

Founded in 1955 by Anne Van der Bijl, a Dutchman better known as Brother André, Portes Ouvertes was primarily dedicated to the persecution of Christians in communist countries. A few years before the fall of the USSR, the Soviet regime began to change its laws and allowed the importation and printing of copies of the Bible. After the collapse of the Iron Curtain, concern for persecuted Christians shifted to the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa, lesser-known terrains than communist Europe, forcing the NGOs to rethink the analysis of information.

A desire for methodological seriousness to achieve academic standards

This reorientation led Portes Ouvertes to develop its tool for analyzing persecution. “Persecution in many other cultures had to be accurately understood, with different drivers. It is in this context that the Index was created,” the organization explains.

More than 4 people around the world are involved in its preparation, in particular by bringing data from the field, without distinction between traditional Protestant and evangelical Christian denominations, Catholics and Orthodox.

Four periods mark the evolution of the Index. The first reports of 1993 to 1998, were based on the publication of the original, annual questionnaires, with updates; those from 1999 to 2001 offered an adapted questionnaire, coupled with spreadsheets; the following integrated cross-checks between field questionnaires and analyzes by external experts (2002-2012), the establishment of life spheres (2013), the increase in the scale of points attributable per question (2014 to 2016), and the adjustment of the methodology as well as the reorganization of the questions regarding the spheres of life.

The spheres of life group together situations where Christians encounter hostility (private life, family life, social life, civil life, ecclesial life), for example rejection of the family, lack of religious freedom, freedom of change of religion, discrimination in access to employment or health, or freedom of worship.

These regular revisions were motivated by the desire to “reflect as faithfully as possible the reality of the persecution of Christians”. This concern led to an in-depth review of the tool “in order to increase its academic quality, its transparency and its objectivity”, underlines the NGO.

This methodology, coupled with a vast network of collaborators, enables Portes Ouvertes to report detailed and precise information “down to the village level, for example on facts of persecution that have no media repercussions”.

30 years of developments in the field

This Index, which covers the 50 countries most hostile to Christians, regularly sees its ranking modified. However, some countries are still in the top group, such as North Korea, Somalia and Afghanistan.

In three decades, some names of Christians have been publicized worldwide, and Western governments have put pressure on the countries of which they are citizens in order to obtain that they are not executed. The figures of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman - sentenced to death in 2009 following a blasphemy charge before being released in 2019 and welcomed to Canada -, or that of the Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani - sentenced to death in 2010 for apostasy are the best known.

Others like Slimane Bouhafs, condemned in Algeria for "insulting Islam and its prophet" on Facebook or Ramses Boules Hermina, a Copt killed with a knife in Egypt are less so.

The trend of persecution in the Muslim world is on the rise in some countries and on the decline in others. If Christians are being attacked by civilians in Egypt, it should be noted that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi bombed an Islamic State camp in Libya in 2015 after jihadists beheaded 20 Coptic Christians.

Sisi never ceases to affirm that Christians are as much Egyptian as their Muslim compatriots. This approach is the opposite of some of the criticisms leveled at Christians who are considered as foreigners in their own countries, by the authorities or society.

From 40 to 76 countries where the persecution is strong or extreme

If there are developments within countries, for example the return to strong persecution in China under Xi Jinping after years of relative calm, or the deployment of hostility towards Christians to the level government in India under the power of the BJP, Aryan nationalist party, Open Doors also observes in the number of countries affected.

"In thirty years, we have gone from 40 to 76 countries where the persecution of Christians is strong or extreme", deplores the NGO. Another cause for concern, she underlines the increase of more than 25% in three decades of the average score of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians: the average today is 74 points while extreme persecution is at 81. points.

Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and Latin America

This geographical extension and this increase in the level of persecution is largely explained by jihadism. The Islamists strike more and more in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa: this region had only one country experiencing extreme persecution in 1993, Somalia - against three today - two with very strong persecution - currently 12 - and four with strong persecution – 11 according to the latest index. Among African countries, 15 of these countries entered the Index only from the 2010s, 12 of them mainly due to Islamic persecution.

In Central Asia - except in Kyrgyzstan - and in Turkey, the persecution is growing. But also in traditionally Christian lands such as in Latin America where certain governments are hostile to Christians seen as dissidents – for example in Nicaragua where President Daniel Ortega represses the Christian presence. Open Doors also notes that criminal groups attack Christians seen as obstacles to their activities: since 2019, Colombia is no longer the only country where they attack Christians, it has been joined by Mexico, Cuba and Nicaragua.

The NGO points out that the Covid-19 pandemic was an opportunity to restrict the freedoms of Christians, for example in Qatar or China where not all churches were reopened when the confinements were lifted.

Brother André is deceased on September 27 at the age of 94.

Jean Sarpedon

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