Worldwide approximately 100 million Christians are being persecuted because of their faith, according to estimates from the German aid organization Open Doors. An improvement to the situation is not in sight.
DW: Mr. Müller, as a analyst for the German aid organization Open Doors, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide, you observed that the five countries in which Christians are being persecuted the most are, first and foremost, North Korea, then Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Have these countries been on top of the list for years or have there been significant changes?
Thomas Müller: You can basically say that this situation has been going on for years. For the eleventh consecutive time North Korea is in first place in our rankings of countries in which Christians are being persecuted and oppressed the most. And that isn’t surprising considering what you hear from inside the country. It is understandable if people say: ‘Wait, there are really Christians left there?’ Yes, there are, but they have to go underground. As soon as they are found, they will most likely be sent to a labor camp or even worse.
Are there any countries where the persecution of Christians is decreasing?
There are countries where there is a little bit of hope – a couple of countries in Southeast Asia for instance. One of the countries worth mentioning here is Myanmar, formerly Burma, which has made international headlines because the military junta has at least given up parts of its power. However, one of the largest minorities in Myanmar is a Christian minority group, the Kachin. The military is still fighting against the Kachin and so you can absolutely wonder who really has the power in Myanmar. Is it the military or is it the president? And in the case of the Kachin or the Shan and other minorities it hits the Christians hard – churches are attacked there because people escape to those churches.
The persecution of Christians has different facets – from direct physical violence to discrimination in daily life by authorities or in shops. Is there a trend that the persecution of Christians has become more violent?
The tendency we see is that before it was the state that was the persecutor. Think about communism for example. But throughout the last few years it has shifted to governments realizing that persecuting Christians or other minorities means bad press. They decided it’s easier to support independent groups or supposedly independent groups that will persecute the Christians. So altogether the situation unfortunately hasn’t improved and persecution hasn’t decreased. Especially in countries that many had high hopes for, such as Egypt, where numerous attacks against the Coptic minority have recently occurred. We can’t talk about an Arab Spring anymore; after all, it’s eight to 10 million people that are affected.
You don’t just capture the persecution of Christians in abstract numbers, but you also analyze the persecution extensively. Have you found any prominent trends?
The trend is that unfortunately we see Islamic extremism increasing further. There are a couple of groups that have unfortunately even made it into Western media. I just want to mention Boko Haram in Nigeria, where there have been attacks again and again, especially against Christians. Another example from this year would be Mali, where in the last year Islamist groups have conquered the entire North. Recently there was an attack on a church in Pakistan, the harshest assault that has ever occurred against a Christian church in this country. Hence the violence is increasing and it is not focused on a certain region.
What you describe paints a grim picture. Is this also your prognosis for the persecution of Christians in the future?
I don’t see a change happening in these countries as long as people don’t understand that with all the welcome democratization tendencies happening, democracy doesn’t simply consist of having elections but also calls for the protection of minorities. That’s not only the case for the countries I’ve already mentioned, but also for democratic countries, such as Indonesia, where democracy has been working well for a couple of years now. But even there the protection of minorities is not ensured and to some extent there are violent assaults against Christians or churches simply being shot at.
You describe the mechanism that you currently observe. But that’s not a prognosis. What is your estimation for the future?
My estimation is that we will not see any improvement, at least not to a large extent. Maybe there will be a change in certain countries, for example Bhutan, where you can absolutely see that Christians have been doing better there throughout the last few years, even though they still don’t have any freedom. But altogether and as long as Muslim extremists are increasingly popular, it’s not looking so great. And as long as this extremism stays – and the signs point towards this at the moment – I would say there won’t be any improvement.
Thomas Müller (name has been changed by the editorial department) is a lawyer and works as an analyst for the German aid organization Open Doors. Open Doors is an interdenominational Christian aid organization supporting persecuted Christians whose religious freedom is vigorously restricted. The aid organization also compiles a study of the number of persecuted Christians and the political background of the persecution.