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Year in Review: Suffering through wars, disasters, and religious persecution

Refreshed by stories of survival and religious freedom

In a rare victory for religious freedom, Finnish politician Päivi Räsänen was found not guilty of “hate speech” for a Biblical tweet. ADF International

Year in Review: Suffering through wars, disasters, and religious persecution

This year, news on the international stage again included persecution of Christians and wrestling over power. While wars and disasters often dominated the headlines, we also saw victories for religious freedom and uplifting stories of survival against the odds.

Here’s a summary of some of the stories that stood out to us in 2023:

A tale of takeovers  

A string of coups across parts of Africa continued this year. On July 26, mutinous soldiers from Niger’s presidential guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum. On Aug. 30, soldiers in Gabon put the reelected President Ali Bongo Ondimba under house arrest and appointed guard chief Gen. Brice Clothaire Oligui Nguema as the country’s new leader. But not all coup attempts ended with a successful military takeover. Earlier this month, Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo said clashes between the national guard and presidential guard amounted to a coup attempt. He dissolved the opposition-majority parliament in response. Authorities in Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso also detained suspects after similar attempts.

Fighting for freedom 

In the central region of Nigeria, deadly violence between armed nomadic Fulani herders and mostly Christian farmers continued this year. Just before Christmas, assailants rampaged through more than a dozen communities in Plateau state. They killed at least 140 people and injured about 300 others in the weekend attacks and burned down many homes. Armed militias in forests throughout the north also have raided villages and kidnapped people for ransom.

Ethnic clashes in India’s Manipur state flared in May between the dominant Meitei Hindu community and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe. The Kukis’ protest against the Meiteis’ request for Scheduled Tribe status—which gives marginalized groups, like the Kukis, quotas for education, health, and government jobs—triggered violence that killed at least 175 people.

Indian authorities have targeted Sikhs outside of India, who advocate for the formation of an ethno-religious state called “Khalistan” in India’s Punjab state. Last month, prosecutors in the United States charged an Indian national with allegedly planning to assassinate an American Sikh activist. In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged that Indian government agents were involved in the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader.

In Pakistan, Muslim mobs rampaged through Christian neighborhoods in August following allegations that Christians had ripped out pages from the Quran. Attackers burnt down churches and homes belonging to Christians.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists also continue to face crackdowns. In July, Hong Kong’s national security police announced unprecedented bounties for information leading to the arrests of eight self-exiled activists. Meanwhile, prominent protest leaders remain in detention on charges of subversion and foreign collusion.

And in Russia, officials arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in March on espionage charges. Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin wants to reach a deal with the United States to return the journalist.

Waging wars 

As Russia continued its incursion into Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy struggled to retain the support of weary donors. European leaders on Dec. 14 voted to open talks with Ukraine about joining the European Union. But they failed to secure $55 billion in aid to the war-torn nation. Meanwhile, the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region came to a head this year. Azerbaijan staged an offensive in September, months after blocking aid from getting to the region’s majority-Christian ethnic Armenians. Most of the residents—more than 100,000—fled, mostly into Armenia.

In Sudan, fighting that began in April between warring generals from the military and a powerful paramilitary force has not abated. Attacks began in Khartoum and quickly spread to other parts of the country. Reports in November chronicled more ethnically targeted killings in the West Darfur region. The fighting has left more than 9,000 people dead and displaced more than 6 million others. Meanwhile, Israel has continued its offensive against Hamas since the group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defied calls for a humanitarian cease-fire, saying he needs to clear out the group. More than 100 hostages are believed to remain in Gaza.

Deadly disasters 

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake in February devastated Turkey and Syria. Among the more than 200 aftershocks was a 7.5 magnitude tremblor. The disaster killed more than 33,000 people in less than a week. In Morocco, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in September killed at least 2,900 people. It was the strongest earthquake to strike the North African nation in more than a century.

Cyclone Freddy wreaked havoc across southeast Africa between February and March. The longest-lasting cyclone in history battered Mozambique, Madagascar, and Malawi for more than five weeks. And in Libya, Storm Daniel caused two dams to burst in September, unleashing floods that wiped out large swathes of Derna.

Some good news 

In June, soldiers in Colombia rescued four indigenous children who had gone missing in the Amazon rainforest for 40 days. The siblings, ages 13, 9, 4, and 1, survived a plane crash that killed their mother, the pilot, and a guide.

In India, rescue teams last month pulled out 41 workers who had been trapped for more than two weeks after the tunnel they were building collapsed.

Fleeing religious persecution, members of Shenzhen Holy Reformed Church, a house church from China, arrived in the United States in April. The congregation, also known as the Mayflower Church, ended its yearslong search for freedom after seeking asylum in South Korea and Thailand.

And in a victory for religious freedom, an appeals court in Finland acquitted politician Päivi Räsänen in November of hate speech. Authorities charged Räsänen after she posted a Bible passage from Romans 1:24-27 about homosexuality on X, formerly known as Twitter.

WORLD Asia correspondent Erica Kwong contributed to this report.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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