Beheadings, imprisonment made 2015 worst year for Christian persecution, report finds

Beheadings, imprisonment and eviction from ancestral homelands made 2015 the worst year on record for persecution of Christians, with North Korea topping a list of 10 otherwise Muslim nations as the most dangerous places for followers of the Gospel, according to a new report.

Islamic extremism and authoritarian governments combined to make last year the worst in modern history for Christians around the world, according to Open Doors USA. The trend spiked upward in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, with thousands of Christians killed or imprisoned, and even more chased from their homes.

"Islamic extremism continues to be the primary driving force behind the expansion of persecution,” said Open Doors President and CEO David Curry. “It is no longer just a Christian problem, but a global problem that must be addressed.”

It is no longer just a Christian problem, but a global problem that must be addressed.

— David Curry, Open Doors USA

An estimated 7,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2015, up nearly 50 percent from the previous year and the highest number since such statistics have been tracked. Nigeria, Eritrea and Pakistan were among the countries that experienced the biggest – and bloodiest – spikes.

"The report confirms what we have seen develop in these countries -- a rise in Islamic extremism that tragically targets minority religions -- especially Christians,” said Jay Sekulow, chief council for the American Center for Law and Justice. “The brutality is unspeakable, with nearly 1 million Christians being slaughtered or displaced in the Middle East.”

It is up to the United States to bring about change, according to Curry.

“As the dominant power in the free world, [the U.S.] must lead the charge in bringing more relief and aid to those suffering," he said.

Remains of St. Mary's, Syrian Orthodox church in Homs, Syria. (Aid to the Church in Need-US)

Remains of St. Mary's, Syrian Orthodox church in Homs, Syria. (Aid to the Church in Need-US)

Of the top 10 countries on the list, nine are of a Muslim majority, but topping the list is the totalitarian regime of North Korea.

Under the family dynasty now ruled by Kim Jong Un, Christianity is seen as a Western-based mass delusion. Out of the country’s estimated 300,000 Christians, nearly 70,000 are imprisoned in the Hermit Kingdom’s notoriously brutal labor camps. Those Christians that are not imprisoned are forced to hide their faith, even from members of their extended families.

Driven by ISIS’ violent reign in the north and west, Iraq was the second most dangerous place for Christians last year. The terrorist organization, which has a large presence in Iraq, Syria and Libya, has made beheading of Christians its bloody hallmark, even as it cleanses large swaths of the Middle East of all religious minorities.

The number of Bible followers there has fallen to an estimated 275,000, from 1.5 million in 2003. Some experts in the international community believe that the Middle Eastern country could see its Christian population completely gone within five years. The dwindling numbers are due to genocide, flight and forced conversions at the hands of ISIS jihadists.

The country’s second-largest city, Mosul, was once home to a thriving Christian community as old as the religion itself, but was overrun by ISIS and purged of its Christian residents.

Pastor Saeed Abedini

Pastor Saeed Abedini (COURTESY OF ACLJ)

Third on the list is the African nation of Eritrea, where Christians are systematically imprisoned for their faith by an authoritarian regime.

Also in the top 10 were Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Libya.

Sekulow says that more needs to be done in Washington to combat the seemingly global issue.

“We continue to urge the full Congress and the Obama administration to act,” he said. “We've heard from nearly 215,000 Americans who understand what's at stake: Christians are being murdered daily because of their faith."