Since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, believers in Afghanistan have been more persecuted than ever as the regime hunts down Christians. Photo from Open Doors USA's Facebook page.

Since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, believers in Afghanistan have been more persecuted than ever as the regime hunts down Christians. Photo from Open Doors USA's Facebook page.

Afghanistan is now the world’s most dangerous country for Christians, after it wrested the top spot from North Korea, which has ranked first on the World Watch List for the last 20 years.

This unprecedented ranking is largely due to last August’s Taliban takeover, which has exacerbated the identification and persecution of Afghan believers, according to the World Watch List 2022, which was released yesterday (January 19).

Compiled by Open Doors, which supports persecuted believers around the world, the World Watch List is an investigative research and annual report that ranks the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is worst.

Countries are ranked by the severity of persecution, calculated by analysing the level of violent persecution and the pressure experienced in five spheres of life: Private life, family life, community life, national life and church life.

“They want to eliminate them”

Even before the Taliban took over, Christians in Afghanistan had already been facing extreme levels of persecution, according to previous reports.

“Believers in Afghanistan are being hunted, and their names are known to the Taliban.”

It is impossible to live openly as a Christian in the country, and converts can be sentenced to life imprisonment or death. The country has ranked second on the World Watch List for the past four years.

But the situation now is much more dire.

“The risk of discovery has only increased, since the Taliban controls every aspect of government – including paperwork from international troops that may help identify Christians,” said this year’s report.

At the 2022 World Watch List prayer webinar on Wednesday, Henriette Blyth, chief executive officer of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said: “In Afghanistan, the Taliban are hunting Christians. They want to eliminate them.

“If Christian men are discovered, they will almost certainly be killed. Christian women and girls are given to young Taliban warriors as the spoils of war. And if women and girls are raped, they will most certainly be trafficked.”

Christians’ names are known to the Taliban

In a video interview shown during the prayer webinar, Hana (not her real name), a Christian in Afghanistan, detailed the extent of persecution believers are currently facing.

“If (Christians) are found out to be believers, then immediately they are considered traitors, enemies of the state, enemies of their tribe and community. It leaves them vulnerable to be accused of treason. They are traitors, and the punishment for that is death,” said Hana.

Over 360 million Christians worldwide live in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.

“Believers in Afghanistan are being hunted, and their names are known to the Taliban, so they have to stay in hiding and operate completely underground,” she added.

Christians are also being denied medical care, even in situations like childbirth, as medical care in Afghanistan is paid for by religious tax, she said. Those from other faiths are thus deemed to have no right to access medical services.

Even for those who have fled the country, life is not much safer or more smooth-sailing. They have to contend with long and dangerous journeys, a lack of clean water and the threat of abduction or interrogation, said Hana.

Blyth added that Christians who flee are likely to face as much persecution for their faith, as many of Afghanistan’s surrounding countries, such as Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Uzbekistan, are also on the World Watch List and suffer from high levels of Christian persecution.

Over 360 million persecuted Christians worldwide

The government takeover by the Taliban has unfortunately had a ripple effect.

Jihadist extremists in other countries, particularly in West Africa and Asia, have been emboldened by this seizing of power, leading to an increase in jihadist violence in areas beyond Afghanistan, said Blyth.

“This year, the spread and intensity of Christian persecution is worse than it’s ever been in the nearly 30 years that we’ve been preparing the list,” she added. “In other words, the situation for our persecuted brothers and sisters is getting worse and worse.”

According to this year’s report, over 360 million Christians worldwide live in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination. This is up from 340 million in 2021 and 260 million in 2020.

According to this year’s list, the top 10 most persecuted countries are: Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran and India.

“This year, the situation is worse than ever, and it’s deteriorating in many countries around the world.”

Apart from India, there were six other Southeast Asian countries on this year’s list, including Myanmar (#12), Vietnam (#19), Laos (#26), Indonesia (#28), Brunei (#46) and Malaysia (#50).

Additionally, almost 6,000 Christians were martyred worldwide last year, while more than 6,000 believers were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned for their faith.

Another 3,800 Christians were abducted and more than 5,000 churches and Christian buildings were attacked, according to the report, which defines Christian persecution as “any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Jesus Christ”.

Said Blyth: “This year, the situation is worse than ever, and it’s deteriorating in many countries around the world. It’s more important than ever that we need to pray.”

Unquenchable hope 

Despite the deplorable conditions they are in and the danger they have to contend with on a daily basis, the hope in many believers in Afghanistan is far from quenched.

“You can take every last airplane in the world and take every last believer from that country … but God will continue growing His Church.”

Hana said: “I’m very hopeful, because the reason that there are believers that stay is not because of the intervention of any human being. It’s the sole work of God, the sole work of the Holy Spirit.

“No amount of human effort can work against the powers and principalities working there. You can take every last airplane in the world and take every last believer from that country, and people will still be having dreams and visions. There will still be persecution, but God will continue growing His Church.”

In a heartbreaking message sent to Open Doors, another Afghan Christian wrote: “The Taliban are killing our souls and spirits … They are killing the souls of our children by taking all that is beautiful away from them.”

Yet, he continued: “We will never let that hope be silenced. We will make sure the world hears the Gospel through every breath we take, and we know you will help us by living the Gospel, using your freedom and sharing Jesus to those who have come to your neighbourhoods. Please continue to stand with us.”

Open Doors strongly urged believers to pray once a week for the persecuted Church throughout this year, using their free 52-week prayer guide.

The report said: “When we pray with persecuted Christians, we stand with them in solidarity, and remind them they are not alone. We join in God’s mission to provide them a place of safety through our support, knowing He will not leave them or forsake them – and neither will we.”

Pray for key trends in Christian persecution

  1. The Taliban’s success has encouraged jihadism across West Africa and Asia. Pray that the Lord would halt the deadly plans of extremist groups and that the jihadis will come to know Jesus.
  2. Pray for all our brothers and sisters who have been displaced as a result of persecution. Pray that the Lord will give them homes and provide for all their needs.
  3. Governments are becoming more authoritarian, using technology to oppress Christians and other minorities. Pray for worldwide justice, good governments and respect for religious freedom.

Pray for Afghanistan

  1. Pray for secret believers in Afghanistan that they will be protected from the violence of the Taliban.
  2. Pray that Taliban leaders will uphold and preserve human life, and that God would turn their hearts from hate to love.
  3. Pray that Open Doors partners supporting Afghan refugees will be filled with grace and love as they care for people fleeing.
  4. Ask God to care for Christians who may be on lists now owned by the Taliban. Ask that they would be ignored by the Taliban.
  5. Pray for Christian women as they must live life under a regime with little interest in education or equal treatment for women.
  6. Pray for Afghan refugees who have been forced to flee, that God will heal their trauma.
  7. Pray that isolated Christians in Afghanistan will be able to find secret fellowships, and know they are being prayed for by believers around the world.

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About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer at Salt&Light. When she's not working, you will probably find her admiring nature or playing Monopoly Deal with her little brother.

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