A report released Tuesday by the non-profit Open Doors International places Nigeria at the top of a list of ten countries which are the worst violent persecutors of Christians.
“The alarming increase of violence against Christians in Nigeria over the past months highlights the lack of religious freedom they have and the daily dangers they face from the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram and other violent Islamic organizations,” David Curry, president of Open Doors USA, stated June 3. “It is turning into a bloodbath.”
The organization's World Watch Top 10 Violence List was based on incidents of violent persecution counted between Nov. 1, 2012 and March 31, 2014. According to researchers, the numbers were very minimal and “could be significantly higher.”
Nigeria topped the number of faith-based killings of Christians, with 2,073 martyrdoms; Syria and Central African Republic followed, with 1,479 and 1,115 killings respectively.
The report estimated the average monthly number of Christian martyrdoms at 322 during the time period. 3,641 Christian properties and churches were destroyed, and 13,120 incidents of “other forms of violence” were reported; such incidents included beatings, abductions, rapes, and arrests.
Concerning Nigeria, the World Watch List stated that the terror group Boko Haram “continues to attack Christians on a large scale by burning down and bombing churches and Christian property, and assaulting and kidnapping Christian women and girls.”
Recently, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos called for a global effort to defeat the radical Islamist group, maintaining that it “is faithful to its target of eliminating and destroying Christianity from parts of the country.”
Last month alone, Boko Haram was blamed for two bombings which killed nearly 300 persons, and took credit for the April kidnapping of nearly 300 teenaged schoolgirls.
Syria ranked second on the Top 10 Violence List. Open Doors reported that Christians there are a “considerable minority,” caught in the midst of the country's more than three year civil war.
“Many churches are damaged or destroyed, in many cases deliberately,” the report stated, adding that Islamists among the rebels have committed such violence as the October, 2013 massacre of 45 citizens of the Christian village of Sadad, where victims were buried in mass graves.
Also near the top of the list were Egypt and Central African Republic. After the administration of Mohammed Morsi fell last summer, sectarian attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt rose to a level Amnesty International called “unprecedented,” culminating in attacks on 80 churches last August.
Meanwhile, Séléka rebels in Central African Republic have “deliberately targeted Christian villages, killed Christians and assaulted women and girls in the North in their quest to Islamize the country,” Open Doors reported.
The country ranked third on the list in anti-Christian killings, but the numbers are “most likely to be underreported” because of “limited access” to sources in parts of the country.
Colombia was featured on the Top 10 Violence List because organized corruption there targets Christians for such activities as political leadership, journalism, and advocacy for human, indigenous, and environmental rights.
“Their Christian conviction leads them to act in ways that threaten vested interests of criminal networks,” Open Doors stated.
The other countries featured on the list were Mexico, Pakistan, India, Kenya, and Iraq.
Open Doors listed “Islamic extremism” as the “major engine” of persecution in seven of the top ten countries, but added that “tribal antagonism and organized corruption” are other “main persecution engines.”
North Korea was omitted from the list “due to an inability to derive sufficiently accurate figures about the reasons for killing Christians in this most secretive society,” said Jan Vermeer, Open Doors' field worker in the country.
"When it comes to counting the numbers of Christians martyred, it is impossible to get an accurate number for North Korea,” he said, adding that “it is a fact that thousands of Christians are starved, abused and tortured in North Korean’s extensive prison system.”
Open Doors also produced a World Watch List of the 50 countries in which Christians are most persecuted. That list is topped by North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan; it differs from the Top 10 Violence List because it considers all forms of persecution, rather than solely violence.
Vatican analyst John Allen, whose book “The Global War on Christians” was published in 2013, told CNA last fall that “martyrdom is very much a feature of the contemporary Christian landscape” and that defending Christians against persecution “deserves to be the world’s number one human rights priority.”
His book reported that 100,000 Christians had been killed in the first decade of the 21st century, 11 new martyrs every hour.
Allen did blame radical forms of Islam for “a fair share of Christian suffering around the world,” but emphasized that other world religions and powers targeted Christians as well.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need also published a report on Christian persecution in 2013, title “Persecuted and Forgotten,” detailing how the situation for Christians is worsening in “20 of the 30 countries of greatest concern.” The report added that in most of those countries, Christians have seen a “severe decline” in their livelihood.
The organization’s director of evangelization and outreach told CNA recently that Christians face “many, many challenges” worldwide and that the global persecution “has increased over the last 10 to 15 years.”