Christian persecution likely to intensify in Nigeria, India, China in 2023: Release International

Mourners attend the funeral for victims of June 5, 2022, church attack in Owo, Ondo state, Nigeria. | Catholic Diocese of Ondo

The persecution of Christians worldwide appears set to increase in at least three pivotal countries — Nigeria, India and China — in the coming year 2023, according to a report by the United Kingdom-based aid and advocacy organization Release International.

Providing aid to persecuted Christian families in over 25 countries, the charity released its annual "Persecution Trends" report Wednesday. The document is based on findings from its partners in the world's worst persecution hotspots.

The report identified Nigeria, India and China as countries of "growing concern" for 2023. Among the three, Release International identified Nigeria as its "country of key concern" for 2023. 


Christians hold signs as they march on the streets of Abuja during a prayer and penance for peace and security in Nigeria in Abuja on March 1, 2020. The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria gathered faithfuls and other Christians to pray for security and to denounce the barbaric killings of Christians by the Boko Haram insurgents and the incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria. | Kola Sulaimon/AFP via Getty Images

According to the report, violence is growing in Nigeria, where thousands have been killed in recent years as the country grapples with Islamic extremist groups in the northeast and radicalized herdsmen in the Middle Belt. Additionally, the group warns of potential demands to divide the nation in the run-up to the presidential election scheduled for February 2023.

"Every indication suggests Nigeria is at a pivotal point in its history. The election in 2023 will determine whether the nation grows as an entity or disintegrates," one of the organization's Nigerian partners is quoted as saying in the report. 

Pressure is building from Islamists, including terrorist groups, in the north for an independent Islamic state, the report notes, adding, regional ethnic groups in the south are also calling for secession.

In the Middle Belt region, persistent attacks against predominantly Christian communities are being reported. And persecution is no longer limited to the north as it spreads 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," the report states.

Release International estimates that Fulani extremists killed thousands and destroyed at least 17 villages this year.

Violence in Nigeria has driven more than 2 million people from their homes.

"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," a local partner is quoted as saying in the report.

"Hundreds of thousands of children in these Christian villages are unable to go to school or access good education. ... Whichever way the election goes, Nigeria as a nation is in need of a miracle."


Early Rain Covenant Church in China | Facebook/Early Rain Covenant Church

In China, Christians come under even greater pressure to demonstrate unswerving allegiance to Premier Xi Jinping by rejecting the Christian faith, the report claims. 

A growing number of Evangelicals are being targeted and arrested on charges of being cults, corruption or illegal religious activity.

"The government under Xi Jinping wants to control everything. They see Christianity as not fully under their control," says Release International's local partner in that country, explaining that Christianity is depicted as unpatriotic, outdated and Western in origin.

China only recognizes five religious groups that submit to the government's influence.

Christians from unregistered churches, including the heavily persecuted Early Rain Covenant Church, have been taken in by the authorities for questioning.

The report adds that many young people, teachers and parents are being told religion will harm their education and they should report anyone involved in such activity. 

As The Christian Post reported, the Chinese government implemented Administrative Measures for Internet Religious Information Services in March, mandating an "Internet Religious Information Service License" for any religious group seeking to disseminate religious content on the internet.

Under the law, only "legally established" organizations may register for a license in the country.

Open Doors USA, which monitors Christian persecution in over 60 countries, ranks China as the 17th worst country when it comes to Christian persecution. 

"Christian leaders are generally the main target of government surveillance, and a very small number have been abducted," Open Doors states in a factsheet.

There may be as many as 100 million Christians in China, as scholars have said that there could be more Christians in China than anywhere else in the world by 2030.


Christian nuns wave placards as they march during a demonstration against the tabling of the Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill on December 22, 2021, in Bengaluru, India. The Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill also known as the Anti-Conversion Bill makes provisions for the prohibition of unlawful conversion from one religion to another by force, allurement or by any fraudulent means with punishments ranging between a minimum of three years and a maximum of 10 years along with monetary penalties. However, leaders of opposition political parties and activists allege that this law targets Muslims and interfaith couples and is a tool provided to pro-Hindu activists to harass interfaith couples from entering into consenting relationships and marriages. | Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images

Release International predicts that persecution is also likely to increase in India, where radical Hindus appear increasingly emboldened by the dominance of the nation's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party government, according to the report.

Religious freedom conditions in India have drastically deteriorated in recent years following the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014.

While Christians comprise only 2.3% of India's population and Hindus account for about 80%, about a dozen states have enacted anti-conversion laws, claiming that Christians "force" or entice Hindus to convert to Christianity.

"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," the report reads. "As intolerance rises, reports of violent attacks against pastors and congregations continue."

Anti-conversion laws typically state that no one can use the "threat" of "divine displeasure," which means Christians can't talk about Heaven or Hell since it would be seen as luring someone to convert.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported 200 attacks on Christians in the first five months of 2022, Release International notes.

Over the recent Christmas period, there were reports of Hindu radicals burning effigies of Santa Claus, which they equate with Christianity, and chanting "Death to Jesus Christ," the report says.

"The persecution of Christians in India is intensifying as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence," a fact sheet from Open Doors USA states. "The driving force behind this is Hindutva, an ideology that disregards Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians because they have allegiances that lie outside India, and asserts the country should be purified of their presence."

"This is leading to a systemic, and often violent and carefully orchestrated, targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred."

The United Christian Forum reported at least 486 violent incidents of Christian persecution in 2021, calling it the "most violent year" in the country's history. And the number of attacks this year could be even higher.

Release International CEO Paul Robinson says 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," he adds. "It teaches us that persecution, terrible though it is, strengthens resolve. It emboldens and refines the Church."

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