Afghanistan has replaced North Korea as the number one country in the world where Christians face the worst persecution, according to Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List. The news that North Korea is no longer in the top spot after holding that position for two decades is a key takeaway from the annual report.
“The 2022 World Watch List reveals the most seismic changes in the history of our research,” said Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry in a press conference Wednesday. “For the first time ever, Afghanistan is the most dangerous place on the planet to be a Christian.”
Open Doors is an organization that supports persecuted Christians throughout the world. The group releases its World Watch List at the beginning of year, ranking the top 50 countries where Christians face the most oppression for their faith. North Korea has held the number one spot on the list for the past 20 years.
Curry emphasized that the 2022 World Watch List does not represent good news about North Korea. “I want to be absolutely clear,” he said. “North Korea has not gotten better. Afghanistan has gotten worse.”
2022 World Watch List: Notable Trends
Today, 360 million Christians—that is 1 in 7 believers—throughout the world “suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination,” said Curry. He identified two primary threats to religious freedom: religious extremism and totalitarian regimes. Regarding the first threat, Curry said, “Religious extremists and the governments they control lead the World Watch List for the first time.” Religious extremism is the source of persecution in 9 out of the top 10 countries on the 2022 World Watch List. North Korea, which is “run by a murderous dictator with a Communist ideology,” is the only exception.
“Islamic extremism around the world has been galvanized by the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan,” said Curry. Events in the country have exacerbated instability in other countries, such as Somalia, Iran, and Pakistan.
Any Christian remaining in Afghanistan is on the run or in hiding. In an audio recording played during the press conference, an Afghan refugee described what it is like living as Christian in the country: “It’s really hard when you want to have freedom of faith and freely read our Bibles, freely share our faith, always fear of death…It’s really heavy. You know, like, you’re always living inside a cage.”