Sudan and northern Nigeria saw the steepest increases in persecution against Christians in 2011, according to the annual World Watch List by Christian support organization Open Doors.
Sudan—where northern Christians experienced greater vulnerability after southern Sudan seceded in a July referendum, and where Christians were targeted amid isolated military conflicts—jumped 19 places last year from its 2010 ranking of 35th to 16th. In northern Nigeria, a rash of Islamist bombings, guerrilla-style attacks, and increased government restrictions on Christians contributed to the region leaping from 23rd to 13th place.
As it has the previous nine years, North Korea topped the list as the country where Christians are most persecuted. Egypt landed at 15th in the 2012 list after being ranked 19th last January, before political chaos loosened the grip on Islamic extremists. Ethiopia went from 43rd to 38th place, and Indonesia from 48th to 43rd place. Most of the countries on the list have an Islamic majority—38 out of 50, including nine of the top 10.
"As the 2012 World Watch List reflects, the persecution of Christians in these Muslim countries continues to increase," said Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. "While many thought the Arab Spring would bring increased freedom, including religious freedom for minorities, that certainly has not been the case so far."
China moved from 20th to 21st on the list, "mainly due to other countries comparatively getting worse," though it still has the world's largest persecuted church of 80 million, the report notes. That China dropped out of the top 20 this year "is due in large part to house church pastors knowing how to play ‘cat and mouse' with the government," the report states—that is, knowing how not to attract the attention of authorities, such as not putting up church name signs, limiting worship attendance to no more than 200, and not singing too loudly.
A new addition to the list is Kazakhstan at 45th place; Colombia returned to the list at 47th after being absent in the 2011 and 2010 editions.
Kazakhstan moved onto the list due to the passage of "an invasive and restrictive religion law" requiring the re-registration of all religious communities, the report notes. The law will make youth work virtually illegal and put all religious acts under government scrutiny.
Colombia had been included on the World Watch List annually before 2010, with left-wing insurgencies as well as paramilitary groups targeting Christian pastors. During the reporting period, these movements "have branched into narco-trafficking, and Christian leaders that will not cooperate in the drug trade are targeted for assassination," the report notes. "Five were killed this year, and it is thought the number could be as high as 20."
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