Every year, Open Doors research teams create the World Watch List: a list of the countries where Christians face the most severe persecution, ranked from the most extreme. It’s a unique, in-depth record of the places where Christians are following Jesus no matter the cost, and research has been gathered and analysed annually since 1993 – but how it is compiled?
There is no international, legal definition of persecution. Situations can be defined as persecution where persons experience the denial of the rights listed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, World Watch List methodology has opted for a theological rather than a sociological definition: “Any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians”.
This broad definition includes (but is not limited to) restrictions, pressure, discrimination, opposition, disinformation, injustice, intimidation, mistreatment, marginalisation, oppression, intolerance, infringement, violation, ostracism, hostilities, harassment, abuse, violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Broadly, the methodology distinguishes between two main expressions of persecution: ‘squeeze’ and ‘smash’. ‘Smash’ is relatively easy to identify and track, since it refers to concrete acts of overt violence against Christians, because of their faith. ‘Squeeze’, on the other hand, is the persecution experienced as pressure in many areas of Christian life.
Christian experience is thus considered in five different areas of life – which can be considered ‘squeeze’ – as well as the final category being the ‘smash’ of violence:
It could be possible for a country to allow, say, church meetings and religious freedom – but believers, particularly those who have converted from a majority faith, experience harsh persecution in private, family and community life.
After a series of initial research enquiries, a 100-question survey is used by researchers in countries experiencing persecution, and those externally involved with those countries. Sixteen of these questions are used to give background information about the country and perceived changes over time, as well as establishing which drivers of persecution are most prevalent in the country (e.g. Islamic oppression, religious nationalism, clan oppression, organised crime and corruption).
The remaining 84 questions are used to score the six categories of persecution. It can be difficult to distinguish causes of persecution, as it is often multidimensional – for instance, a Christian from an ethnic minority could be targeted both for their faith and their ethnicity. That’s one reason why detailed questionnaires are helpful in establishing qualitative data that identifies root causes.
The questions are answered by Open Doors partners in each country, who gather information from a number of key contacts in their country (as well as their own experiences and expertise). Data-gathering includes this ‘grassroots’ approach, to ensure it reflects the real, everyday experience of Christians.
The completed questionnaires are cross-checked by external experts, and results and methods are independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom.
While the published World Watch List currently includes 50 countries each year, this research is conducted in 150 countries.
For violence, scoring relates to specific incidents. For instance, if a Christian has been murdered for their faith, this is three points. Ten or more killings give the maximum number of 30 points – so this score is the same for, say, Pakistan and Nigeria, even though many more Christians are killed for their faith in Nigeria. (We use the statistic that 14 Nigerian Christians are killed for their faith every day - this is done by dividing the total number of Christians killed for their faith during the year by 365 - i.e. 5,014/365 = 13.7, which is rounded to 14.) Less severe acts of violence (e.g. a church being attacked) are given fewer points per incident.
Each individual question on the ‘squeeze’ sections of the questionnaire can score a maximum of 16 points. That’s four points for each of:
For instance, the question ‘Has it been dangerous to privately own or keep Christian materials?’ does not simply get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The researcher considers how broad, intense and common this danger is.
Once all the scores for each of the questions are added up, the average is found for the category (e.g. ‘Personal life’). So that each of the six categories of persecution are weighted equally, this is calculated as a score out of 16.667:
A similar calculation is done so that ‘violence’ is also given as a score with a maximum of 16.667. A total score across the six categories is given out of 100.
Once the final score has been calculated, the level of persecution in the country is determined:
The ranking is determined by the total persecution points – which are calculated to three decimal places, though for readability only the integer is published.
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