Christian Persecution

How much UK aid was given to Christian-persecuting countries in 2014?


The most authoritative report on the persecution of Christians around the world has now been released for 2015. The widely respected Open Doors World Watch List is the only annual global survey of Christian religious freedom. Since its inception in 1993, it has helpfully ranked the 50 countries most hostile to Christian believers during the previous year.

The systematic persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria may have dominated recent media attention with the rapid rise of Islamic State, but the report reveals that oppression and violence have intensified in many countries. In fact, 2014 saw the greatest number of religious freedom violations against Christians worldwide in recent memory.

According to the full report, which is conservative in its estimates compared to other assessments, “the 4,344 Christians reported to have been killed during the 12-month period is more than double the 2,123 killed in 2013, and more than triple the 1,201 killed the year before that. The majority of the deaths in the most recent period occurred in Nigeria, where 2,484 people were killed, and in Central African Republic, where 1,088 people were killed”. Open Doors state:

Though violence against Christians made headlines throughout 2014, it was largely the same in most countries, with the exception of Iraq, Syria and Nigeria… Instead, pressure on Christians increased mostly in less obvious ways: being shunned by family; losing a job and rejection within the community for faith related reasons. Such “squeeze” tactics are especially hard on former Muslims who have embraced Christianity.

Predictably, the main engine behind this persecution in 40 of the 50 countries on the 2015 Watch List, including 18 of the top 20 countries, was Islamic extremism. “It is fair to say that Islamic extremism has two global centres of gravity. One in the Arab Middle East, but the other is in sub-Saharan Africa, and even Christian majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and even violence,” writes Ron Boyd-MacMillan, director of strategic trends and research for Open Doors International, “It’s important to understand this extremism is not only from the violent jihadists like the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, but Islamists who seek to take over cultures by stealth.”

The second most common driver of persecution was “dictatorial paranoia”‘ or “where leaders seek to control religious expression”. In North Korea, which has now held the top spot for 13 years continuously, it is illegal to be a Christian. Those who are discovered to be so are often sent to labour camps or summarily executed.

Interactive map of 2015 World Watch List countries. Bright red equals more severe persecution. Zoom out to see all 50 countries. Click on individual countries for details.

Note: This interactive map does not include the Maldives, ranked No. 11, an archepelago about 400 kilometres southwest of India, in the Indian Ocean

This all makes for miserable reading for anyone who believes in the right to religious freedom. On current trends, 2015 will be even worse.

Sadly, fewer politicians in the UK have publicly acknowledged these realities than they did in 2013. Instead it has been left to Prince Charles, Justin Welby and other religious leaders to do their utmost to keep the plight of Christians in the news. One exception has been Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, who has promised to appoint a Global Envoy for Religious Freedom should Labour win the next General Election. He wrote:

In the face of persecution on this scale, neither ignorance not fear of offence can be an excuse for standing by on the other side in silence. That is why a year ago I warned against a misplaced sense of political correctness that had meant too many British politicians had forsaken speaking out against the evil that is anti-Christian persecution. Political correctness can never be an excuse for ignoring the cry of the suffering.

Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, is stark in her assessment: “I am convinced that what happens in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa in the next three years will define the future of Christianity as we know it. We can’t afford to sleep-walk through these critical days.. The church is experiencing persecution on an unprecedented scale. Time is running out.”

The question is what more could or should be done?

It is vitally important that governments in free societies do what they can to promote freedom of religion for believers of all faiths and none as a fundamental human right as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It is also important to understand and recognise that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world and that much of this, as the World Watch List has repeatedly highlighted, comes through oppression in the name of Islam. You can’t talk with any authority on the subject of religious freedom without addressing this fact.

Having the UK Government make the right noises is essential for progress, but alongside those words there must be action, and one possibility is the carrot-and-stick leverage that Overseas Aid might give to influence official policy abroad. Over the last three years I have provided the figures on the amount of aid given by the UK Government to the 50 countries on the World Watch List. Below is the list for 2014. The number in brackets is the amount of bilateral aid (rounded to the nearest £m) given directly by the UK through the Department for International Development’s aid programme taken from their 2014 report:

  1. North Korea (0)
  2. Somalia  (107)
  3. Iraq (7)
  4. Syria (139)
  5. Afghanistan (212)
  6. Sudan (69)
  7. Iran (<1)
  8. Pakistan (328)
  9. Eritrea (5)
  10. Nigeria (249)
  11. Maldives (<1)
  12. Saudi Arabia (0)
  13. Libya (15)
  14. Yemen (95)
  15. Uzbekistan (<1)
  16. Vietnam (23)
  17. Central African Republic (2)
  18. Qatar (0)
  19. Kenya (160)
  20. Turkmenistan (<1)
  21. India (268)
  22. Ethiopia (329)
  23. Egypt (21)
  24. Djibouti (<1)
  25. Burma/Myanmar (100)
  26. Palestinian Territories (69)
  27. Brunei (0)
  28. Laos (<1)
  29. China (0)
  30. Jordan (17)
  31. Bhutan (<1)
  32. Comoros (0)
  33. Tanzania (152)
  34. Algeria (3)
  35. Colombia (7)
  36. Tunisia (5)
  37. Malaysia (4)
  38. Mexico (6)
  39. Oman (0)
  40. Mali (1)
  41. Turkey (5)
  42. Kazakhstan (2)
  43. Bangladesh (272)
  44. Sri Lanka (9)
  45. Tajikistan (8)
  46. Azerbaijan (3)
  47. Indonesia (22)
  48. Mauritania (<1)
  49. United Arab Emirates (0)
  50. Kuwait (0)

(Detailed information on the nature of persecution in each country can be found here (1-20) and here (21-50))

The total figure for these countries is £2.722 billion, which equates to 59 per cent of the £4.636 billion given directly to individual countries. This is not an insignificant amount of money by any measure and it is a hard fact of life that funding buys you a place at the negotiating table. There is a limit, though, to how much aid can be used to deal with the complexities of religious belief and attitude, and if there is a lack of political stability in a country it may make very little difference. But in a few places it does provide options. The important thing is for avenues to be explored and for the resources available to be used effectively.

Christians are of no greater importance than others, but nor are they of any less worth. When any group of people suffer for no good reason, pretending it isn’t happening is never the right or acceptable reaction. Ensuring that our politicians do not run away and hide from the issue must surely be one of the key priorities for churches and Christians in the build-up to the General Election. There will be plenty of opportunities through hustings and the like to do just that. One of the more immediate ways is to invite your MP to the parliamentary launch of the 2015 World Watch List in the House of Commons on the 20th January, which is being sponsored by Naomi Long MP.  This event will highlight the dynamics of persecution and is a perfect opportunity to equip MPs with the information they need to engage meaningfully with the issue relating to religious freedom.

Last week’s terrible events in Paris and the subsequent attendance of many world leaders at Sunday’s historic rally shows that we care deeply about the freedom to express our views and beliefs without fearing for our lives. Is it not too much to believe that those beyond our national borders deserve the same right?