The persecution of Christians is expected to rise in 2014, according to a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about Christian persecution and to offer pastoral and practical support to persecuted Christians around the world.
Release International has highlighted two challenging areas for Christians this year, said spokesperson Andrew Boyd.
The first, he said, is “the continuing rise of Islamist persecution” in the form of militant groups that are seeking to change the governments within their countries and to take power, in particular, in Afghanistan and Nigeria, which are both set for elections this year.
The Taliban in Afghanistan, he said, will likely increase its attacks as NATO troops pull out by the end of 2014. In Nigeria, the Islamic militant group Boko Haram has already declared war on the Nigerian president and on Christians, said Boyd.
The second challenging area is the communist and post-communist world. Boyd identified North Korea to be the biggest concern. “North Korea has headed many organizations’ lists as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world for quite some time now,” he said.
He also identified a particular dynamic in countries of Central Asia, where majority-Muslim populations and a background culture of communism come together. Though constitutionally secular, in nations “where you have a strong Islamic culture and a strong communist culture, there you have really quite a great deal of oppression,” Boyd said.
Elaborating on the situation in Afghanistan, Boyd explained that “anyone who converted to Christianity (has) either faced persecution by the state or risked being murdered by their relatives”.
“There are Christians who are active in Afghanistan and there are Muslims who are wanting to convert. The numbers may be small but the oppression against them is absolutely severe and the authorities today are turning a blind eye to persecution in that country,” he said.
Boyd said the situation in Afghanistan is important to understand, despite the few Christians there, because it serves as “a reflection of what is happening in other countries, where there’s a hardening of religious fundamentalism against Christianity and against anyone who would like to change their faith.”
Christians, heeding the words of Jesus, know there will always be persecution, stated Boyd. “But that doesn’t mean that we stay silent about it,” he added. Scripture urges Christians to both remember those who suffer and to speak out against injustice, he continued.
“There is a need for advocacy. There is a need to say that this (persecution) is wrong,” he said. “Governments need to be taking action to do something about this. Laws are unjust. They need to be changed.”