Beyond the top 50 on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List, the charity lists another eight countries where the persecution of Christians is “high”. Below is an explanation of each, provided by Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit.

Comoros

How are Christians persecuted?

  • Islamic oppression: The Constitution states that all public policies must be based on Islamic beliefs. Some legal provisions for religious freedom exist, but these are directed more towards foreigners than native Christians. Since the referendum on the Constitution in 2009, it has become visible that residents are adopting a more radical view of Islam, especially on the islands of Anjouan and Moheli. The rise of radical Islamic sympathies among the population at large, government officials, religious leaders and Muslim youth groups in particular, causes anxiety among Christians.
  • Dictatorial paranoia: Since independence (from France) in 1975, Comoros has seen at least 20 coups or attempted coups. This history of violence has left the country desperately poor, and at times on the brink of disintegration. It has also led to a paranoid state of mind among government officials. Considering the peaceful February-May 2016 election and transition, one might say that the country has become truly democratic. However, that would be a mischaracterisation. The country’s rulers are still known for suppressing freedom of association, religion, and expression – this is particularly true when it comes to restricting Christians’ freedom in all walks of life.

By whom?

  • Muslim religious leaders are at the forefront. In mosques and madrassas, they regularly teach anti-Christian sentiments.
  • Government officials have their share in this, as they obligate parents to send their children to madrassas. They also prohibit Christians from publicly engaging in religious discussion or preaching.
  • Family and community members discriminate and harass suspected converts. They also deny worshipping space for Christians in general.
  • An ultra-conservative group of Islamic scholars known locally as Djaulas (many of whom trained in Pakistan) is pushing the country to a more radical view of Sharia (Islamic law) in the country and are against Christians.

Which Christians are affected?

  • All Christian communities in Comoros face persecution, although the level and the types of persecution may differ. Christians are expected not to discuss their faith in public. In some parts of the country, radical groups intimidate Christians with violence. However, violence is not common in the country, although this might change in the future. Proselytism related to any religion except Islam is illegal and converts can be prosecuted. Converts to Christianity from a Muslim background face the severest difficulties at the hands of family, community leaders and government officials. They are put under pressure not to practise their faith, leaving them little option but to live out their faith in secret.

Cuba

How are Christians persecuted?

  • Communist and post-Communist oppression: Due to a progressive opening to the world market in recent years, the main socialist aspects of the regime have gradually decreased, which has meant a major move away from the State’s original policies. Nonetheless, since the country is still ruled according to Communist postulates, the idea of a paternalistic state remains and continues to apply a socialist economic model, with a predominance of the central level and the state enterprise. This provides no possibility of entrepreneurship for its citizens and means the continued censorship of independent journalism and freedom of conscience and the limitations of most civil and social rights in general.
  • Dictatorial paranoia: Cuba has in practice become a Communist dictatorship. Thus, Raul Castro’s government is trying to control the private and public life of Cubans and any indication of opposition to the regime by Christians or others will be investigated and dealt with harshly. The desire to maintain a system of total monitoring has resulted in excessive repression and the infringement of citizens’ rights; anyone contradicting or questioning the leaders and their power – whether for reasons of faith or otherwise – suffers relentless harassment, is eventually classed as an enemy of the regime and is targeted by the State.
  • Organised corruption and crime: Due to the strict application of the law and the severe penalties imposed, there are no large crime networks on the Island. However, corruption has become a part of daily life at every level. Accessing the black market and bribing officials is very often the only way to get things done. So when the government wants to build a case against Christians, they can easily accuse them of buying on the black market.
  • Secular Intolerance: The government restricts groups seeking to defend human rights, regarding itself the source of all norms and values. Anyone disagreeing is seen as an enemy of the regime.

By whom?

  • The government seeks to control every activity on the island, including church activities – through the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) – which even means a strict monitoring and censorship of all sermon content. The main method used by the government to maintain power is the indoctrination of children and youth. This is the best method to win future supporters and is the reason education through the state system is mandatory. No other kind of education is possible in the country.
  • Also, normal citizens sympathising with the Communist Party will inform the authorities about actions taken “against the postulates of the regime”; as will religious groups such as “santeros” (who practice Santeria); and the extended family, who sometimes betray and accuse their “dissident” relatives, fearing State reprisals.

Which Christians are affected?

  • All churches are affected by government control. Last year saw an increase in arrests of Christians attending unregistered meetings and Christians expressing disagreement with the regime. Also, some Christians considered to be opponents of the regime were removed from their jobs.
  • On 20 February 2017, police detained over 50 ‘Ladies in White’ – a peaceful opposition movement founded in 2003 by female relatives of 75 jailed dissidents – as they were on their way to attend a church service. The women protest against the imprisonments by attending Catholic Mass each Sunday wearing white clothes (symbolising peace) and silently marching through the streets in a group afterwards.
  • On 20 March 2017, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) was sentenced to three years in prison after publicly criticising Fidel Castro, shortly after the latter’s death.
  • On 27 April 2017, a 20-year-old Cuban student returning from the United States was arrested by police at the airport, accused of terrorism, and later expelled from the university. He belonged to a Christian-based academic society and had submitted a report on religious-freedom violations in Cuba to the United States International Religious Freedom Commission (USCIRF).

Kyrgyzstan

How are Christians persecuted?

  • Dictatorial paranoia: No religious activities beyond state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed. In 2009 a new Religion Law was introduced, bringing many restrictions for Christians. Since 2015 a new draft law is under discussion, which would make registration of congregations almost impossible, as it would require at least 500 church members.
  • Islamic oppression: Kyrgyzstan is much more traditional than many other countries in Central Asia. Pressure on Christians coming from Islamic circles is particularly aimed at Christian converts from a Muslim background. If indigenous people convert to Christianity, they will experience pressure and occasionally physical violence from their families, friends and local community to force them to return to Islam.

By whom?

  • Government officials, ethnic group leaders, extended family, non-Christian religious leaders and normal citizens each put pressure on Christians, especially those from a Muslim background.

Which Christians are affected?

  • Christians from a Muslim background will take care not to draw unwanted attention to themselves, since family, friends and community will do their utmost to make converts recant their faith. Converts have been locked up in their homes to pressurise them into recanting. Known converts and non-traditional Protestants who are actively evangelising are monitored by the community. For church groups, registration is obligatory, but the biggest hurdle is that 200 signatures are currently required to obtain registration, a demand that practically no church can meet.
  • During 2017, one female convert to Christianity was killed by her brother; one church was attacked in Tokmak; one pastor was arrested; there were two reports of women being forced to marry (a common practice in Kyrgyzstan); 30 Christians were beaten (most by their families); and 18 Christians had to go into hiding.

Morocco

How are Christians persecuted?

  • Islamic oppression: Although Muslim-majority Morocco is considered to be a relatively tolerant country (with the intensity and frequency of persecution being less compared to many other countries in the region), nevertheless Christians suffer persecution from both the state and society at large. A recurrent problem for Christians who are open about their faith relates to Article 220 of the Penal Code, which criminalises “shaking the faith” of a Muslim. This puts many Christians who talk to others about their faith at risk of criminal prosecution and arrest. However, last year Morocco’s High Religious Committee ruled that apostasy is not an offense that should be published by death.

By whom?

  • The State – through restrictions – and radical Muslims within society. In rural areas, the pressure coming from the extended family and the community at large can also be considerable, especially on converts from Islam.

Which Christians are affected?

  • Persecution mainly affects Christian converts from a Muslim background, although restrictions also apply to the small historical Catholic and expatriate communities. Many Moroccans who have converted to Christianity live in urban areas and enjoy relatively more freedom than Christians in rural areas. There were a few instances last year of Christians being forced to leave their homes and go into hiding and even leave the country. Political analysts have also observed that while the law only punishes proselytism, converts to Christianity can be punished in other ways, for instance through losing child custody and inheritance rights.
  • Advocates for the rights of Christians have been targeted for violent attack by radical Islamic militants. On 4 November 2016, Mohammed Saeed Zao, a well-known activist for the rights of Christians, survived a knife-attack in Casablanca. Although the incident was reported to the police, they refused to take up the issue, calling him a troublemaker.

Niger

How are Christians persecuted?

  • Islamic oppression: through radical Islamic activity, and family and business life.

By whom?

  • Militant groups like Boko Haram and radical Islamic teachers who influence ordinary members of society. Ordinary citizens and state officials (in some parts of the country and at the local level) also contribute to the persecution of Christians.

Which Christians are affected?

  • Niger is home to three categories of Christianity: historical Christian communities; communities of converts to Christianity (from a Muslim background) and non-traditional Christian communities. Sometimes the pressure on Christians only affects converts – for instance, ostracisation by family members, including denial of inheritance rights and also abduction and forced marriage. Sometimes all three types of Christianity are affected, for instance in renting properties for residence or business purposes.
  • The persecution of Christians has worsened in some parts of the country, while the situation has improved in others. In places like Niamey, the capital city, the treatment of Christians has improved slightly. However, in areas where the influence of Islamists is prominent, such as Diffa, it has increasingly become difficult for Christians, particularly those who are businesspeople. In Diffa and Tahoua regions the situation is worsening because militant Islamic groups are in control of some areas. In regions like Zinder, Christians suffer from harassment by ordinary citizens. In Maradi, Tahoua, Dosso, Niamey and Tillabery the effect of such harassment is minimised due to the campaign for peaceful cohabitation between Muslims and Christians organised by the government.

Russia

How are Christians persecuted?

  • Dictatorial paranoia: Under President Putin, a former KGB officer, more and more restrictions are being introduced in the legislation. The authoritarian government continues to restrict freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and other human rights.
  • Islamic oppression: This is the most important persecution dynamic in the Caucasus region. In the various republics on the northern slopes of the Caucasus range (Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia) Islamic militants are fighting the Russian army to establish a Muslim emirate. Many ethnic Russians have left the area due to the violence. Churches have seen the number of their members drop. Christian converts from a Muslim background have to keep their faith secret for fear of being executed. The influence of radical Islam is also growing in Tatarstan, a region 800 kilometres east of Moscow.

By whom?

  • Government officials at various levels, normal citizens and political parties (especially the United Russia party of President Putin) are drivers of Dictatorial paranoia throughout the Russian Federation. Christians with a Muslim background experience additional (and much more intense) pressure from their Muslim environment, which is caused by ethnic group leaders, non-Christian religious leaders and extended family.

Which Christians are affected?

  • Officially, Russia is a secular state, but the regime openly courts the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to the disadvantage of other denominations (which are often regarded as foreign). In the Muslim regions, the rulers explicitly court Sunni Islam instead. Russia has one region where very conservative Islam is dominant: the North Caucasus. There, pressure on all Christians, but most specifically on converts from Islam, is very high. Conversion is strongly opposed. Many Christians have fled this region over the past decades. Converts living, for example, in Chechnya and Dagestan are considered to be traitors to their national identity, since Christianity is associated with the Russian occupiers, the ‘enemy’ in the guerrilla war that has been going on for decades.
  • Non-traditional Christian communities have also frequently been targeted by the ROC for “stealing” congregants. Protestant groups are often regarded as heretics by the ROC and as un-Russian, Western spies by the State. In Muslim areas, these Christians are often targeted because they are suspected of being active in evangelism.
  • At least 10 Christians were physically attacked in 2017 and 20 Christians briefly detained by Russian police, but none of them were sentenced to jail. One Christian from India and two from South Korea were extradited. One church and one Christian cemetery were damaged. Russian troops also demolished a dilapidated Polish Catholic church and cemetery in Tsebelda, Abkhazia.
  • In December 2016, the pastor of an unregistered Council of Churches Baptist congregation in Zabaikalsk Region was charged for not notifying the authorities of his group’s activities. This carries a fine of up to 500 Rubles (less than $10).

Tanzania

How are Christians persecuted?

  • Islamic oppression: The majority of mainland Tanzanians are Christians, and the majority of the population on the island of Zanzibar are Muslims. In recent years, Islamic oppression has become more prominent, originating from Zanzibar and moving across the coast of mainland Tanzania. The radical Islamic group Uamsho (a Swahili acronym for the Association for Islamic Mobilisation and Propagation) uses Zanzibar as a springboard to further its radical Islamic agenda in Tanzania. Uamsho and related groups aim to establish an Islamic state that includes Zanzibar and a significant section of Tanzanian mainland along the coast. In this new, would-be Muslim state, there would be no place for Christians or people with other religious beliefs. It appears that the idea of this Islamic state is gaining popularity among Muslims even on the mainland. The influence of the radicals has even influenced the drafters of the Constitution (to be ratified by referendum) to include a provision that allows the establishment of Sharia courts in the whole country. At the moment Uamsho seems to have lost momentum, as it leaders have been arrested or left their leadership role. However, the ideology it has implanted will continue to create problems both for Christians and the government.

By whom?

  • Those who subscribe to the radical ideology propagated by some Wahhabists in the country and members of Uamsho; Muslim family and community leaders, especially when it comes to converts from Islam; government officials who buy into the Wahhabist ideology; and some ethnic leaders.

Which Christians are affected?

  • All Christian communities in Tanzania are experiencing persecution to some degree, but Christians with a Muslim background on Zanzibar are affected the most severely, where bullying, harassment and sometimes physical attacks have been observed. There have been waves of attacks against Christians and their property, as well as churches, over the last four years or so. On 30 April 2017, a Catholic church in the coastal region was broken into and property set on fire. A note was left containing a death-threat.

Uganda

How are Christians persecuted?

  • Islamic oppression: Through the rise in radical Islamic activities in the country, and particularly the Allied Democratic Forces. The Tabliqs (a sect of puritanical Muslims whose members portray themselves as Muslim evangelists) have continued to advance the cause of Islam in areas like Mbale, Kasese, Arua/Yumbe. From its base in East Democratic Republic of Congo, ADF, an armed force established by Tabliqs, has been creating fear among Christians. The group has recruited many youths from Uganda. The presence of the group is creating an environment of intolerance. Ugandan Muslims were not intolerant in the past. But, those who sympathise with ADF are preaching the idea of having an Islamic state in Uganda (and in a part of the DRC), and this is taking away the culture of tolerance. In the eastern part of the country, there has been pressure on Christians from the Muslim community, which opposes the presence of churches in their areas. Converts are often targeted, as are church leaders.

By whom?

  • Non-Christian religious leaders, fanatical groups, some governed officials, some church leaders and family members (especially when a member becomes a convert from Islam to Christianity).

Which Christians are affected?

  • All Christian groups living in areas affected by the presence of Islamic extremists face persecution. Converts in particular face major problems and find it difficult to live a normal life – owning Christian materials or discussing their faith with family members or community members can lead to expulsion, serious physical attacks or even death. Bullying and harassment are very common in eastern parts of the country.
  • Last year two Christians were killed by radical Muslims and two churches were attacked and damaged.