Open Doors has released its 2020 World Watch List, an annual report that ranks the top 50 countries in the world where Christians face the worst persecution. In a press conference about the latest research, Open Doors president and CEO David Curry highlighted three major trends from the list, emphasizing the increasingly disturbing actions of the Chinese government.
“China is creating what I believe is a ‘persecution roadmap’ against religious faith,” said Curry. “It is the greatest threat, in my opinion, to human rights today.”
The First Trend from the 2020 World Watch List: China’s ‘frightening’ Behavior
North Korea made the number one spot on the World Watch List for the eighteenth year in a row. Yet the press conference focused heavily on China, despite the fact the country only ranked 23rd this year. Curry did not pull any punches about the scope of the danger he believes the Chinese government poses to global religious freedom, a threat he said has “implications…not just for Christians within China but for every country and for religious freedom generally.” Curry was clear that the Chinese government endangers people of every type of belief, whether they are Christians, atheists, or followers of non-Christian religions.
The steps China is taking to restrict freedom are “frightening,” said Curry, who started by describing “the shocking rise of the surveillance state.” There are cameras everywhere in China, as Curry himself can attest since he traveled to the country only a couple weeks ago. He witnessed firsthand the fact that the government is tracking church attendance by means of facial scanning, as ChurchLeaders recently reported.
“The more often you go to church,” said Curry, “the more you may likely be considered a radical.” He drew attention to the persecution of Early Rain Covenant Church over this past year. In December 2018, authorities arrested 100 of the church’s members, including the pastor, Wang Yi. While most of the members have since been released, Pastor Wang Yi was recently sentenced to nine years in prison because of his faith. Curry also mentioned the fact that the government has been detaining and brainwashing Uighur Muslims in so-called “re-education camps.” “It’s not just fears. It’s not unfounded,” said Curry. “It’s already happening.” He stressed that while the World Watch List focuses on Christian persecution, “We stand for religious faith and freedom for all people everywhere.”
Curry went on to describe how, in something that seems pulled directly from Netflix’s Black Mirror, the government has been developing a system for giving people a social score. “Imagine a system where every citizen is given 2,000 points, and every time you do something that the government disagrees with, you’re marked down for it,” said Curry. “And eventually your travel is restricted, your children won’t get into the best schools. You lose points for taking your children to Sunday school.”
The reason Open Doors is drawing so much attention to China this year, he said, is that everything indicates that in 2020, the Chinese government will be merging its social scoring system with its surveillance system. What’s more, “It’s only a matter of time before the world is going to jump on this technology because China is selling it to Iran. They’re looking to sell it to Egypt and other countries as well.”
Also speaking at the press conference was Jian Zhu, the senior pastor of Chinese Christian Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Zhu has pastored in Albuquerque for the past 30 years, and for the past 20 has spent three to four months out of every year in China. He is in regular contact with pastors and church leaders there, and he confirmed the accounts ChurchLeaders has reported on that the government is pressuring people to renounce their faith and to spy on and betray their Christian neighbors.
Zhu also confirmed the ways authorities are implementing the sinicization of Christianity. The pastor (who idolized Chairman Mao before he became a Christian) said that the government’s present restrictions on religious freedoms are the worst he has seen since 1979.
Other Notable Trends
The second trend Curry highlighted from this year’s World Watch List was the spread of Islamic extremism. Countries that stand out as examples of this trend include Iran, where last year 194 Christians were arrested. Curry also mentioned Algeria and Sri Lanka, the latter of which is notable for the bombings that occurred there last Easter.
The third trend Curry mentioned was the oppression Christians are experiencing at the hands of dictators. Eritrea is one country that exemplifies this type of persecution, but North Korea is the undisputed leader in it. Said Curry, “The free world needs to unite and send a message to North Korea that they cannot join the world community without some transparency on human rights.”
Among other changes Curry called attention to was the fact that Burkina Faso has risen on the list in a “major way.” He also mentioned the suffering Christian women experience throughout the world, noting that 8,539 Christians were raped or sexually harassed last year. This averages out to 23 people per day.