Persecution Trends Report lists China, India as top countries of concern for 2018

(Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo)Believers take part in a weekend mass at an underground Catholic church in Tianjin November 10, 2013.

China and India were among the top nations of concern listed in the 2018 Persecution Trends Report published by the U.K.-based group Release International, which monitors the persecution of Christians across the world.

Release International stated in its latest report that China is a "key country of concern" for 2018, warning that Christians in the Communist regime will be facing a harsh new year due to the new set of regulations on religious affairs that will come into force in February.

Under the new rules, the state will have greater control over churches and other places of worship, which entails that unregistered house churches will face "increasingly tough measures to control their activities."

The new regulations were being promoted as an effort to "block extremism" and prevent the use of religion to "endanger national security and undermine social order."

At the end of 2017, the Chinese government had stepped up its crackdown on Christmas celebrations in some districts, in an apparent attempt to tighten its grip on Christianity.

In Anhui, local officials issued a notice declaring, "Public places are not allowed to celebrate Christmas. Even creating a Christmas atmosphere – such as putting up Christmas trees, Santa Claus, wearing Christmas hats, and all other items related to Christmas is severely restricted. All Christmas-related activities are required to be cancelled."

Release International noted that the restrictions against Christianity in China will also affect North Korean refugees, as many of them are cared for by Chinese Christians.

The report also noted that the attacks against Christians are also increasing in India, "fostered by militants, who believe that every Indian should be a Hindu." Extremist groups have been pressuring government officials to shut down churches and prevent Christian services.

Other organizations, such as Open Doors, have noted that Christian persecution has increased in India since the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party won the general election in 2014.

Open Doors pointed out that there had been 248 incidents of persecution in the first quarter of 2017, and by the end of June, the number had risen to 410. In 2016, the organization documented a total of 441 incidents for the whole year.

Other countries listed in the annual report from Release International include Vietnam, Nigeria, Iran, and Egypt.

Vietnam is also expected to implement a new law on belief and religion in 2018, which the organization said will increase pressure on churches and religious leaders.

Release International, which was founded by Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018.

"Fifty years is a significant milestone for our ministry," said Release CEO Paul Robinson. "Since 1968, the prayers and gifts of supporters throughout the UK and Ireland have helped many thousands of Christians who have been persecuted for their faith. For this we are truly humbled and deeply grateful to God. Today, as our Persecution Trends Report for 2018 shows, the need for prayer and support is greater than ever," he added.

The U.K.-based group, which supports persecuted Christians in more than 30 nations, asked believers to pledge and pray for the oppressed throughout 2018.

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