Religious freedom advocacy group unveils top 3 Christian persecutors of 2021

A North Korean soldier looks from a watchtower on the banks of the Yalu River, just north of Sinuiju, North Korea, March 31, 2017. | REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

WASHINGTON — The religious freedom advocacy group International Christian Concern has named the Taliban, Kim Jong un and Nigeria as the top persecutors of Christians at its first Persecutor of the Year Awards event.

ICC assigned the scathing Persecutor of the Year label to the top three violators of religious freedom at a press conference Tuesday that coincided with the release of its 150-page report highlighting 24 of the worst oppressors of Christians in a list that was compiled based on conversations with victims of religious persecution and experts on the subject matter. In a statement, ICC described the report as its “most ambitious research project in the organization’s history.”

2021 is the first time ICC has held a Persecutor of the Year Awards ceremony and compiled a Persecutor of the Year Awards report. In the past, ICC issued an annual report called the Hall of Shame that shone a spotlight on the world’s most egregious violators of religious freedom. Speaking to The Christian Post, ICC President Jeff King referred to the Persecutor of the Year Awards as “the evolution” of the Hall of Shame, created to help “the government and press understand very complex topics in a quick manner.”

After ICC Communications Director Mike Pritchard emphasized the organization’s mission to “bandage and build the Church in the most hostile places in the world,” King unveiled the names on the Persecutors of the Year list that calls out specific countries, entities and individuals.

ICC ranked Nigeria as the worst country for religious freedom in 2021. King, who has served as ICC's president since 2003, explained that the African nation has been engaged in a “20-year war against Christians,” which he labeled genocide. 

“There’s a one-sided war against Christians; there are two guerilla forces or factions fighting Christians,” he added. The report elaborated on the unsafe environment Christians face in Nigeria: “Nigeria is one of the deadliest places on Earth for Christians, as 50,000 to 70,000 have been killed since 2000. Nigeria is home to the infamous Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram, which has displaced millions of people and killed tens of thousands of others.” 

“Fulani militants killed more Christians in the past several years than Boko Haram and have displaced Christian farmers. In addition, conservative Islamic communities have allowed the forceful conversion and marriage of young Christian women and discriminated against Christians seeking employment.”

“There are millions, literally millions, 3-plus million Christians displaced,” King asserted, adding: “Their homes have been stolen, their lands have been stolen, their farms have been stolen.”

King further lamented that there was “no meaningful answer” from the Nigerian government, specifically noting the lack of arrests of the perpetrators of crimes against Christians: “The government never seems to respond. There’s really been no military retaliation.”

The religious freedom advocate concluded that the Nigerian government was “complicit” in the attacks against Christians. He also played a video from the Rev. Joseph John Hayeb, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Kaduna State, who elaborated on the attacks against Christians in the epicenter of Christian persecution in the African nation: “Kaduna State alone between the year 2000 and 2021, Kaduna State has lost over 35,000 people.” 

“You cannot talk about the story of the persecution of Christians in Nigeria without looking at the way colonial Muslims and missionaries deal with us,” he added. “We are asked not to preach in Muslim-dominated communities because they already have a system of government.”

Hayeb also pushed back on claims that the conflict in Nigeria is the result of tension between farmers and herders: “That is pure genocide or pure terrorism or pure evil going in our land.”

“This crime has government sponsorship. This crime has government backing. This crime has government approval.” 

The group identified by ICC as the Persecutor of the Year was the Taliban. The report cited the Taliban “going door-to-door to find out who is and isn’t going to the mosque,” searching the homes of Christians and making phone calls to Christians warning them that “We’re coming for you” as the reasons for declaring the Taliban as Persecutor of the Year. 

King discussed the situation in Afghanistan further, suggesting that the United States’ pullout of Afghanistan that enabled the Taliban to take control of the country influenced ICC’s decision to make the Taliban a Persecutor of the Year: “There are probably about 10,000 Christians … they’re all converts from Islam. And so when you’re operating in a culture of radical, fundamentalist Islam, that means you have a bullseye on your back.”

Since the Taliban has retaken control of Afghanistan, he said, they have gone door-to-door asking, “Do you know where the Christians are?” In the past two weeks, King reported that the Taliban murdered a Christian, who was found with a Bible on his phone. King warned that these and many other Christians will “be tortured and given a chance to turn back to Islam. If you don’t, you’re going to be tortured more to find out what other Christians you know and then you’re killed.”

King also rejected the characterization of the Taliban as “half-decent people” who have reformed themselves, accusing them of implementing a stealth operation when it comes to torturing Christians: “This is part of the Taliban’s work. They’re not going to come out and say it.”

“They’re just not going to kill openly. So now, they’re going to become politicians. But they’re doing this kind of work in the background.”

ICC selected North Korean dictator Kim Jong un as its individual Persecutor of the Year. According to the report, “The Kims have created a religious system modeled on the faith (God/Father/Son) with Kim Jong un playing the part of the Son that is to be worshiped. Any threat to the Son and over-arching religious system is mercilessly crushed.”

King referred to Kim Jong un as “the top player” in the persecution of Christians in North Korea, following in the footsteps of the previous North Korean dictators Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung: “The Kim dynasties have tortured and killed millions of Christians over the decades. And I think we are familiar that it’s very common for the Kims or … the regime put away three generations of one family when they’re identified as serious Christians.”

King estimated that around 30,000 Christians in North Korea have been sent to prison camps, while more than a million have been killed. Kim Seong Min, a North Korean defector, outlined the propaganda North Koreans are subject to in order to convince them that Christianity is the enemy of the state. Specifically, he reported that the Kim regime tells people that Christianity is used by the upper classes to oppress the lower classes.