Keeping the Faith Alive

Christian Persecution - Religious Freedom



Religious freedom was violated in countries where more than 4.9 billion people live. In 61 countries, citizens face severe violations of religious freedom – according to a report unveiled June 22, 2023.


This 2023 report is the 16th edition of Aid to the Church in Need’s Religious Freedom in the World Report, produced every two years. It includes information from ACN and other local sources, background material, case studies and regional analysis.

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The persecution of Christians is on the rise worldwide

In recent years, Christian persecution has been sharply on the rise, and its terrible impacts have only begun to be felt. In fact, according to Pope Francis, conditions for Christians are worse now than they were in the days of the early Church.

The merciless targeting of Christians—driven by hatred of Christians and the faith itself—emerges as a common denominator in hundreds of testimonies of persecution received by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) from countries around the world. As a Catholic charity providing emergency aid and pastoral support to the persecuted and suffering Church in 140 countries, ACN is committed to chronicling and assessing the evolving phenomenon of the persecution of Christians around the world today.

Today, according to ACN research, almost 340 million Christians around the world—or 1 out of every 7—live in a country where they suffer some form of persecution, such as arbitrary arrest, violence, a full range of human rights violations and even murder. 

“It is difficult to be chained. It is difficult to be hit. But I lived in the moment as God presented it to me, and I wished no harm to my captors,” said Sister Gloria Cecilia Narváez after being released from captivity in Mali, where she was tortured by Islamic extremists for four years. “Let’s see if your God gets you out of here,” one of her captors had said. She couldn’t believe their hatred.

Sadly, Sister Gloria is not alone. She is one of the many thousands of Christians around the world who suffer because of their faith. Aid to the Church in Need is committed to comforting and supporting these innocent victims. Our mission is twofold. First, we provide persecuted Christians with pastoral and humanitarian aid. Second, we document and report on the hardship they face. Through our fundraising, advocacy, and journalism, we highlight and provide for the needs of these endangered faithful.

What is Christian Persecution?

Christian persecution — The Persecution of Christians — refers to the mistreatment, discrimination, oppression, or violence directed towards individuals or communities who identify as Christians or follow the Christian faith. It involves the infringement of their basic human rights, such as the freedom of worship, expression, and assembly, due to their religious beliefs and practices.


There are many reasons why Christians are persecuted around the world. Primarily Christians are persecuted because of their faith. However, economic and political situations further deepen this problem. In some countries, Christians are seen as a threat to the ruling government, and their persecution is a way to maintain control. Additionally, in many countries, cultural and religious intolerance fuel Christian persecution. In some countries, Christianity is seen as a foreign or Western religion, hence it faces hostility and violence.


Persecution against Christians encompasses a range of unjust practices. The impact of persecution is significant, both physically and emotionally. Individuals and communities who are persecuted often suffer physical harm, including torture, imprisonment, and even death. The psychological and emotional effects of persecution can be equally devastating, leading to trauma, depression, and anxiety. Persecution can also have long-lasting effects on the communities affected, causing displacement, poverty, and social unrest.


Research centers consistently document and emphasize the persistent nature of Christian persecution, which continues to be a widespread human rights concern affecting nations across various global regions. Particularly severe instances of persecution are observed in countries such as North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria, Nicaragua and Yemen.


Increasingly, Christians in Africa confront extremist, Islamist violence. In  Nigeria, for example, there is a concerted effort to “wipe away Christianity,” according to Rev. Samson Ayokunle, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Between January 2021 and June 2022, Fulani herders attacked Christian villages in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, resulting in the deaths of more than 7,600 Christians.

Countless others were forced into Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps. Currently, there are more than a million IDPs in Burkina Faso, many of whom are Christians fleeing jihadist violence. As IDPs, they have lost their land and, in turn, their livelihoods.

Christians are also vulnerable to abduction, rape, injury, and theft. Slavery is also a real threat. As refugees in Africa pass through Libya on their way to Europe, Christians among them are most likely to be harassed or even abducted by criminal groups, either for slave labor or human trafficking.

Throughout Africa, Christians face social alienation and persecution. In countries like the Central African Republic, some women are forced into marrying Muslims and end up separated from their children. Christian mothers may only be allowed to gather if their children are sent to the local mosque.

Poor families often marry off their daughters in exchange for much-needed gifts. In Mali, Christian parents have had to send their sons away for protection. Last year in Sudan, some Christians were arrested and punished for apostasy, while Church leaders were detained. In Niger, the law fails to protect Christian parents, often favoring Muslims in custody battles. In Algeria, any kind of promotion or public display of Christianity is illegal. That country’s laws are written vaguely enough so that, theoretically, any Christian could be arrested. Many governments have also forced the closure of churches and made permission for new church construction almost impossible to obtain.

Middle East

Conditions for Christians in the Middle East may be worse now than during the ISIS occupation. The explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4, 2020, seriously damaged the city’s Christian quarter, leading Church leaders to question its long-term survival prospects.

 Over the past decade, the Christian population in Syria has plummeted from 1.5 million to 300,000. In areas controlled by Islamic militants, Church leaders in the public eye are regularly attacked, and many churches have been destroyed.

Although Iraq has seen some improvement due to a post-ISIS stabilization program, it is now home to only around 150,000 Christians, and many could still emigrate. In addition to a persistent threat of violence, Iraqi Christians face discrimination at work and in school. Societal indifference about the plight of Christians makes things worse for Christians in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

In Iran, Christians can lose their jobs or the right to an education, simply because of their faith. In Saudi Arabia, the Christian population consists mostly of migrant workers from Africa or Asia. Because of their ethnicity and faith, their labor is exploited and undercompensated, while there is a constant risk of deportation. Also, in countries affected by war or other humanitarian crises like the COVID-19 pandemic—countries such as Yemen—Christians are less likely to receive emergency aid, which is often distributed by mosques.

Moreover, in many Middle Eastern countries, there is no political will to protect religious freedom. Sharia law supersedes anything in the legal code, which effectively silences Christians. There are bans on church building, as well as the import of Christian texts and the display of Christian symbols. In some countries, like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, Christians must worship in secret. In Kazakhstan, authorities routinely break up Christian gatherings, and fine or arrest attendees and their leaders.

In some countries, conversion to Christianity is punishable by death. Even family members of converts are expected to preserve their honor by reporting them to officials.


Religious nationalism has sparked severe repression of Christians and other minority groups throughout Asia. In the Maldives, non-Muslims are not considered full citizens. In India and Sri Lanka, Christians and their places of worship are attacked with impunity. In Pakistan, Christians are routinely harassed, and growing numbers of young Christian girls are kidnapped, forcibly married to a Muslim, and converted to Islam. They are often raped as well. Punishment for these crimes often takes years, if it ever comes, as authorities in Pakistan are often apathetic about crimes against Christians.

Police do little to protect religious minorities, and while the courts are generally more helpful, delays are common, leaving Christians to suffer indefinitely.

In China, restrictions on public worship and Internet are very harmful to Christians. Churches are monitored and sometimes forcibly closed. Plus, it is illegal for anyone under 18 to attend Church services. Many Christians have been arrested and sentenced for unclear reasons. They are often charged with fraud or creating trouble.

In Vietnam, Christian communities with an established presence, like the Roman Catholic Church, are allowed relative freedom as long as they do not become politically involved or object to the state’s taking of their land. Other Christian denominations, like Pentecostal or Evangelical Christians, face greater restrictions and scrutiny.

In Laos, there are officially registered Churches, but not all have permanent buildings, leaving many Christians to gather in private homes. Some churches do not have state approval, and their leaders have been arrested and detained for up to a year. They can only be released in exchange for payment.

In North Korea, Christians are either killed or held in labor camps. The possession of a Bible is a punishable offense. Public worship is not safe, and Christians can only celebrate Mass in secret. In Vietnam, during the COVID-19 pandemic the virus was used as a pretext for the discrimination of Christians. At least one Christian community was blamed for its spread of the virus in Ho Chi Minh City.


Based on our research, it is evident that the persecution of Christians in countries of concern has only intensified over time. The faithful have endured intimidation campaigns by both state and non-state actors, with the goal of eradicating the Christian presence in their countries, even in Christianity’s most ancient homes.

Although governments have started to acknowledge the significance of religious freedom and its fragility across the globe, there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done to ensure the protection of religious minorities.

In the West, we must begin by dispelling popular misconceptions about Christians today. As Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil pointed out to U.K. Parliamentarians, “There are still people being persecuted because of their faith. Christians are being persecuted.”

Christian Persecution - Our work around the world

Christians around the world face persecution for various reasons, including government oppression, cultural hostility, extremist attacks, official religious domination, and violations of religious freedom.

In authoritarian regimes like North Korea, China or Eritrea, Christianity is viewed as a threat to power and control. In cultures where a majority religion dominates, Christians may be seen as outsiders and targeted for abuse.

Extremist groups, such as Islamic extremists in the Middle East and Nigeria, target Christians out of religious hatred. Some countries have laws and policies in place that limit or prohibit the practice of Christianity, often in the name of serving the dominant religion. Religious freedom is often disregarded as a basic human right, leading to persecution, suffering, and denial of rights.

To protect project partners and respect regional sensitivities, information will not be available for certain countries.

View country profiles for project details and persecution status.

See activity reports and supported projects in each country.

Light a candle for faithful facing severe persecution and hardship.

Today, we invite you to make a difference. Your support can provide much-needed assistance to those persecuted for their faith. Through our Christian Persecution Fund, we offer emergency relief, legal advocacy, trauma counseling and safe havens. Thank you for your compassion and generosity.

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