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Afghanistan tops list of worst persecutors


WORLD Radio - Afghanistan tops list of worst persecutors

Taliban takeover vaults country to the top of the Open Doors World Watch List

An Afghan woman holds her children as she waits for a consultation outside a makeshift clinic at a sprawling settlement of mud brick huts housing those displaced by war and drought near Herat, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2021. Mstyslav Chernov/Associated Press Photo

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: dangerous places for Christians.

Across the globe, well over 300 million Christians live in countries and regions where they suffer religious persecution.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: One out of every eight believers worldwide live in a place where they cannot safely declare and practice their faith in public.

Each year, Open Doors USA publishes its World Watch List—shining a light on the 50 places around the world where it costs the most to be a Christian.

Open Doors is publishing its 2022 Watch List today.

REICHARD: And joining us now to discuss it is David Curry. He is the president of Open Doors USA. He frequently briefs lawmakers on religious liberty concerns around the world and has testified before Congress about those concerns. David, good morning!

DAVID CURRY, GUEST: Thank you for having me on this show. I appreciate it.

REICHARD: David, give us just a very brief summary of how you compile this list. What goes into putting it together?

CURRY: Well, we have researchers around the world in all of these countries. And then we have networks of churches and groups that helped us collect this data. So it's the largest grassroots survey on the religious freedom of Christians—probably any religious minority group in the world today. That's why it's trusted by the White House and State Department in all the different administrations. And it really tells the story, especially this year, of this seismic shift towards violence against Christians, discrimination, and the many issues that are happening around the world, some of which we know about some of which we don't.

REICHARD: Alright, well let’s talk specifics here a little bit with regard to the 2022 Watch List. I will clarify for our listeners that a high score on this list is not a good thing. You do not want a high score here.

And the country that has the highest overall score on this year’s list is Afghanistan. Why does Afghanistan top this list?

CURRY: Well, that's a seismic change. North Korea has been number one for almost two decades. North Korea hasn’t gotten better - Afghanistan has gotten worse. The Taliban has obviously taken over, as we all know, in August. Took over, seized control of the government. It already for many years controlled large parts of the country, because it's a very tribal, rural country and the Taliban had control in those areas. As such, many people fled to Kabul and the cities because it was controlled by a government that was relative to the Taliban, dependable. Now the Taliban controls those areas as well. What it means is that Christians are tracked. They are punished. They can be killed. It means that schools are shut down. Certainly they're not going to allow women, young girls to go to get an education because they have a medieval interpretation of Islam. They don't represent all of Islam, and we shouldn't overstate it. But they themselves—the Taliban and their followers—are extremist and they want to kill Christians. Some Christians have left. We know that some exist. We don't give a target of how many Christians there are because the Taliban wants to track them. But there is no freedom of religion for Christians in Afghanistan today.

REICHARD: In last year’s list you focused a lot on China and a long list of concerns there. Has anything changed in China for better or for worse over the past year?

CURRY: China's number 17 on our list this year. It continues to move up the list. But that actually sort of belies the major issue there. It is the number one model of centralized control being used against religious minorities. They have all of this technology—facial recognition, they monitor the internet, they control the internet, they use artificial intelligence to watch whether you're attending church or a mosque. And then they punish you by diminishing your social score so that if you're too observant to Christian faith, you can't fly, you can't travel, you can lose your job, your kids aren't going to be able to go to the school of their choice. So China has this roadmap. And I call it a high tech noose. And it continues to get tighter and tighter and tighter. So for example, we estimate that 80 percent of the churches there that were meeting in commercial buildings now are out. They fractured into small groups, because they're trying to shut down these churches. Then they go online, but they're monitored online. And those groups are shut down if they reach more than a few dozen. So China continues to tighten the noose around Christians. They're now editing. Just recently passed new laws that allow them to edit the Bible if it doesn't conform with the state ideology and methodologies. So you are going to have 100 million Christians in China—that's more than there are members of the Chinese Party—who are reading Bibles shortly that have been excised due to whatever the Chinese Communist Party thinks. You have the Three Self Church, which is the national church that already has their sermons as censored. So this is a major issue. And unfortunately, other countries are following suit. They would love to have that sort of centralized control to monitor what's going on with Christians. And we have to challenge that and have to fight that.

REICHARD: David, which country saw the biggest improvement and which country saw the biggest decline?

CURRY: Well, we've seen one jump in a negative sense is Cuba, which is back on the list. The government is trying to neuter the church there. There's a lot of Christians in Cuba. It's number 37 on our list. That would be of interest to people because we have seen some freedoms there in Cuba over the last few years. But that is changing. We have some hope in Uzbekistan and Vietnam. These are areas which have been much tougher in the past but seem to show some improvement. We know the Egyptian government even though Egypt is quite high on the list at number 20, the government itself would like to see an improvement of treatment of Christians and they're making the right moves. The issue there revolves around extremist and cultural differences, where the culture itself has ingrained extremism in it. There's a lot going on in the list. The challenge is that it's really a two front war on the expression of faith. It's tribal extremism—whether it be Hindu extremism in India, or Islamic extremism in Somalia and Afghanistan, Eritrea, these areas. And then you have this other group, which is the governments that are centralizing control and using it against Christians—choking their freedoms. That's the challenge. It’s two different kinds of things happening on the list.

REICHARD: Well, as you said this list certainly gives us all something to pray over. And for western Christians to wake up to all of this. David Curry, president of Open Doors USA, thanks so much for joining us.

CURRY: Thank you

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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