Lost in Ukraine and SCOTUS: Five urgent Christian persecution situations

The American media’s single-story focus has crowded out alarming developments on the religious freedom front.

In this Dec. 21, 2018, photo, North Korean defector Kwak Jeong-ae, 65, speaks during an interview in Uijeongbu, South Korea. Experts and defectors say most of North Korea’s underground Christians do not engage in the extremely dangerous work of proselytizing. Instead, they largely keep their beliefs to themselves or within their immediate families. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

(RNS) — It took the prospect of Roe v. Wade being overturned to knock the war in Ukraine from the top of America’s front pages and homepages. There’s no question the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has profound implications for the future of democracy itself. I just returned from Eastern Europe, where many fear that a Russian victory could lead to the advancement of authoritarianism worldwide. 

But the U.S. media has the propensity to develop tunnel vision. According to a recent study by the Tyndall Report, the war’s evening newscast coverage on the three major U.S. networks was “astonishingly” higher than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, coverage of the Ukraine crisis has exceeded that of any other conflict since the Gulf War in 1991. Then, for much of this week, Ukraine fought for attention with the draft majority opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

But it’s important to note that when media outlets become hyperfocused on a single story, other critical items and implications worthy of coverage get crowded out. Here are five important stories of Christian persecution you may have missed amid the current furor:

North Korea’s new campaign against Christians

Each time I meet with North Korean believers, it seems, their stories of suffering become more tragic. The North Korean government recently stepped up its suppression of the Bible and increased its raids on small gatherings of Christians. Those who profess to be followers of Jesus or carry a Bible are regularly beaten and jailed, sometimes with their entire family. For more than 20 consecutive years, North Korea had ranked as the world’s worst place to be a Christian, supplanted only by Afghanistan this year.

But conditions in North Korea are not improving — in fact, they’re getting worse. A newly published report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom states that North Korea tortures and executes Christians and that the country’s citizens are denied the right to religious freedom from birth. Our silence makes their suffering possible.

Despite these heartbreaking circumstances, I always come away from meeting with these believers impressed and encouraged by their resilience and faith. North Koreans have the same goals and desires we all have — good health, time with family, peace and the opportunity to worship freely. 

China’s surveillance state gets an upgrade

Open Doors USA, the organization I lead, has long decried China’s track record of raiding churches and suppressing religious minorities. Now, people of faith are right to be concerned about new AI-powered surveillance software, a serious escalation in the Chinese technology-driven blueprint of persecution. Dozens of Chinese firms are working on programs to monitor the behavior of everyday people.

Documents reviewed by journalists indicate that facial recognition technology can identify whether a passerby is a member of the Uyghur ethnic minority, a group China has notoriously imprisoned in reeducation camps. In places, all activity — online and offline — of religious minorities is under the watchful eye of the Chinese Communist Party. This information is used to target, censor and punish Christians and other religious minorities who are perceived as threats to the state.

Worse, China is actively exporting its blueprint to emerging authoritarian states. If you thought Russia was the only totalitarian threat the world is facing, think again.

Christians deported from Horn of Africa for evangelizing

Christians living in the Somali Peninsula regularly face harsh persecution. Somalia and Eritrea are in the Top 10 of the World Watch List; Ethiopia is ranked No. 38.

In Somalia, where Islam is the state religion, converting to another religion is prohibited. Those who defy the law, like a married couple who preached the gospel, are arrested, charged with apostasy and “deported” — an escalation in the persecution we’ve seen for decades.

Likewise, in Eritrea, gatherings of believers are raided, with believers sent to prison and subjected to inhumane conditions. Some pastors are facing solitary confinement of more than 10 years. Some Ethiopian Christians, meanwhile, are vulnerable to persecution from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as attacks by Islamic extremists. These conditions are not likely to change without a concerted multinational effort to champion religious freedom.

Nigerian insurgents raid homes and slaughter Christians

Research for the 2022 World Watch List revealed that 4,650 believers were murdered in 2021 in Nigeria, accounting for nearly 80% of Christian deaths worldwide. Nigerians live under the constant threat of attack from Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province , Fulani militants and criminal gangs who kidnap and murder for ransom.

Recently, more than 100 suspected Fulani herdsmen killed more than 25 Christians and two soldiers as part of a raid on the town of Kagoro that also destroyed 200 homes in four areas. On April 21, ISWAP claimed responsibility for a bombing attack that killed or injured 30 people at a market where there was “a gathering of infidel Christians.”

Today, more Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country — and their attackers are expanding their territory further into sub-Saharan Africa.

Indian Maoists murder Christian pastor

At No. 10 on Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List, the world’s largest democracy has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians in a few short years. An extremist strain of Hindu nationalism is emerging, fueling a change in attitudes across India. A Pew survey found that while most Indians (and Hindus) say they are tolerant of other faiths, 64% of Hindus surveyed say it’s important to be Hindu to be “truly Indian.” 

The result is that Indians have become more accepting of systematic oppression of Christians and other religious minorities. Recently, in Chhattisgarh state, a pastor was brutally murdered in front of his family by Maoists, just weeks after receiving a threatening notice to “leave the pastorship of the Christian faith” and return to worshipping tribal gods.

While Article 25 of India’s Constitution promises freedom of religion and conscience, the situation for Christians and religious minorities in the country is deteriorating considerably. 

(David Curry is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, which advocates on behalf of those who are persecuted for their Christian faith. Follow on Twitter @OpenDoors. For more than 60 years, Open Doors USA has worked in the world’s most oppressive and restrictive countries for Christians. Open Doors works to equip and encourage Christians living in dangerous circumstances with the threat of persecution and equips the Western church to advocate for the persecuted. Christians are one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries. For more information, visit OpenDoorsUSA.org. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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