1. North Korea
It is impossible to know precisely how many Christians live in North Korea: they are considered enemies of the state because they believe in an authority greater than the Kims, so must keep their religion completely secret – often from one another. It is estimated, however, that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians there, of whom 50,000 to 70,000 are imprisoned in labour camps.
As in North Korea, Afghan Christians must keep their religion utterly secret. Islam is seen as intrinsic to Afghan identity; it is illegal for any Afghan to leave that faith. Those found to have done so can be confined to a mental hospital, beaten or even killed. It is estimated that there are thousands of Christians living in secret.
Militant Islamists al-Shabaab will kill Christians on the spot if their faith is discovered. The group has declared that it “wants Somalia free of all Christians”. As with Afghanistan, Islam is considered vital to Somali identity. There are perhaps hundreds of hidden Christians.
Of those Christians known to be in Libya, 37,900 are migrant workers. They are permitted to meet to worship, but are often the subject of attacks by radical Islamists. It is illegal to bring Arabic Bibles into the country or to share the Gospel with Muslims. Leaving Islam is considered a deep betrayal of Libyan identity.
Christians comprise two per cent of the population, according to official figures, being some 3.9 million in number. They are subject to draconian blasphemy laws, which can lead to imprisonment or death, and are subject to official educational and workplace discrimination. Certain “unclean” jobs are reserved for Christians.
Since the advent of al-Bashir in 1989, leaving Islam to become a Christian has been illegal and punishable by death. The authoritarian government’s policy of one religion is prosecuted vigorously; blasphemy laws are used to persecute Christians, especially for “acts that encourage apostasy against Islam”. There are around two million Christians living in Sudan.
Of the 2.5 million Christians living in Eritrea, only those belonging to the three Christian denominations (including the Catholic Church) recognised by the government are free to practise their religion. Anyone belonging to an “unregistered” church is considered an enemy of the state. Those Christians can be imprisoned for years on end, forced to labour in commercial flower fields or held captive in shipping containers.
Yemeni Christians, of whom there are now only a few thousand, must live in complete secrecy. All Yemenis are considered Muslims and leaving Islam is forbidden on pain of death. The perceived shame of leaving Islam also leads often to violence or death at the hands of the Christians’ Muslim families.
The 800,000 Christians in Iran are seen as threats to the Islamic Republic. It is illegal to hold services in Farsi or to produce Christian literature. Long periods of imprisonment for “crimes against national security” are the penalty for any ethnic Persian who converts from Islam; they must keep their faith secret. Although Armenian and Assyrian Christians are free to practise, they are discriminated against and are imprisoned if suspected of sharing the Gospel with Muslims.
The estimated 64 million Christians in India are a tiny proportion of the population, comprising less than five per cent. The government is led by a Hindu nationalist party, BJP, which believes Hinduism is integral to Indian identity. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant nationalist group associated with BJP, has stated it wants to see all Christians gone from India by the end of 2021. Thousands of nationalist attacks against Christians take place every year with no consequence for the perpetrators.