The World Watch List is Open Doors’ annual ranking of the top 50 countries where Christians face persecution.
It’s a unique, in-depth record of places where faith in Jesus costs the most.


Persecution situations are usually highly complex and it is not always clear if and to what extent pressure felt by Christians or even violence against them is directly related to their Christian faith. Basically, persecution is related to religions, ideologies or corrupted mind-sets, i.e. elementary human impulses seeking exclusive power in society. WWL methodology considers these impulses to be the power sources behind eight different “persecution engines” (See Explanation of persecution engines).

Diagram 1: Persecution engines act as vehicles for different elementary human impulses seeking absolute power.

World Watch Research uses the term “persecution engine” to describe a distinct situation which is causing Christians to be persecuted either violently on non-violently. This situation of persecution can be considered as the consequence of a societal “power dynamic”. A power dynamic normally represents a worldview that has a claim of superiority over other worldviews. That is not a problem in itself, as long as this power dynamic is coupled with a true sense of pluralism. When this is not the case, the drivers of the power dynamic will strive for absolute submission of society to their worldview. The drivers of the power dynamic are often smaller (radical) groups within the broader group of adherents of that worldview, who are not necessarily representative of that broader group, but who get sufficient space to maneuver towards their aim. Examples of power dynamics are Secularism, Islam and Communism (see Diagram 2).

WWR has defined 8 persecution engines corresponding to their related background power dynamics, as illustrated in the diagram below. These Persecution engines each display their own brand of hostility towards Christians and are central both for scoring the WWL questionnaires and for the analysis of the persecution of Christians and their communities.

Diagram 2: Eight Persecution engines and their corresponding societal Power dynamics


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, WWL 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, marginalization, oppression, intolerance, infringement, violation, ostracism, hostilities, harassment, abuse, violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide.


WWR has been gathering and publishing detailed data on the persecution of Christians since 1992. WWL methodology has gradually evolved since the 1990s and was comprehensively revised in 2012 in order to provide greater credibility, transparency, objectivity and academic quality. Further refinements are regularly made.

WWL methodology distinguishes between two main expressions of persecution: squeeze (the pressure Christians experience in all areas of life) and smash (plain violence). While smash can be measured and tracked through the reporting of concrete incidents, squeeze is documented by discerning how Christian life and witness is placed under pressure in 5 specific spheres of life (See Explanation of the 5 spheres of life and violence). After a series of initial research enquiries, a questionnaire consisting of 84 questions (covering the reporting period 1 November – 31 October) is filled out by researchers in (and those externally involved with) countries experiencing persecution.

The completed questionnaires are cross-checked by input from external experts. Scores are calculated for each of the spheres of life with variables being taken into account.1 For instance, persecution can be worse for some categories of Christians than others or much worse in some parts of a country than in others. Also, the intensity and frequency of persecution is taken into consideration. Different persecution engines, persecution drivers (See List of persecution drivers) and a distinct Persecution pattern become visible for analysis. An audit is made by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF) to confirm that all results have been calculated according to WWL methodology.

A final score is calculated for each country which is then used to determine the order of countries scoring 41 points or more (i.e. countries experiencing high, very high or extreme levels of persecution) in the annually published World Watch List. See Diagram 3.

Diagram 3: Persecution categories with scoring intervals

Developed by World Watch Research

The WWL final scores make possible a detailed comparison of Christian life in the countries listed. Below is an example of the final scores for the highest ranking countries in the WWL 2019 reporting period.

Diagram 4: Extract from WWL 2019 showing block and total scores

The most important reason for ranking countries is to be able to present a complex reality to the broader public. However, WWL rankings only offer a valid comparison between countries scored in the same WWL reporting period; if different WWL reporting periods are being compared then only the final scores make a valid comparison possible. Both ranking and final score must always be viewed in conjunction with the corresponding WWL country dossier which individually explains the persecution situation of a country in more depth.

Explanation of persecution engines

There are different types of Persecution engine, each displaying their own brand of hostility towards Christians. WWL methodology works with 8 categories of Persecution engine.

1. Islamic oppression: This engine describes the persecution situation where countries, communities and households are being forced under Islamic control. This can be done gradually by a process of systematic Islamization (building up pressure) or suddenly by the use of militant force (violence) or by both together.

2. Religious nationalism: This engine describes the persecution situation where countries, communities or households are being forced under the control of one particular religion (other than Islam). This religion can be Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism or some other. The process can be gradual and systematic (via a building-up of pressure) or abrupt (through violence). Often it is the combination of both that increasingly makes life for Christians in the country difficult.

3. Clan and ethnic antagonism: This engine describes the persecution situation where communities and households are being forced to adhere to age-old indigenous customs established by clans, tribes or ethnic people groups. There is a huge variety of groups here. The ‘mechanics’ of this engine is comparable to Islamic oppression and Religious nationalism – there often is a combination of a gradual building-up of pressure and incidental outright violence. This persecution engine does not refer to conflicts between tribes or ethnic groups.

4. Christian denominational protectionism: This engine describes the situation where fellow Christians are being persecuted by one church denomination to make sure it remains the only legitimate or dominant expression of Christianity in the country. This engine is comparable to the other engines that are related to religious expressions: It is characterized by a combination of subtle pressure and outright violence, although in practice the balance is often towards non-violence.

5. Communist and post-Communist oppression: This engine describes the situation where Christians are being persecuted and churches controlled by a state system that derives from Communist values. Key for controlling churches is a rigid system of state registration and monitoring. This system may still be in use in countries after the fall of Communism, as is the case in Central Asia. Although the engine relies on a combination of pressure and violence, the violence is often not particularly visible because the system’s hold on the church is complete and tight.

6. Secular intolerance: This engine describes the situation where Christian faith is being forced out of the public domain, if possible even out of the hearts of people. Its drivers seek to transform societies into the mold of a new, radically secularist ethic. This new ethic is (partly) related to a radically new sexual agenda, with norms and values about sexuality, marriage and related issues that are alien to, and resisted by the Christian worldview. When Christian individuals or institutions try to resist this new ethic, they are opposed by (i) non-discrimination legislation, (ii) attacks on parental rights in the area of education, (iii) the censorship of the Cross and other religious symbols from the public square, (iv) the use of various manifestations of “hate-speech” laws to limit the freedom of expression, and (v) church registration laws. Most of this is not violent, although both pastors and other Christians have been arrested at times.

7. Dictatorial paranoia: This engine describes the persecution situation where an authoritarian government at different levels of society, assisted by social stakeholder groups, does all it can to maintain power. There is no special focus on realizing an ideological vision; it seems lust for power and the benefits it brings with it are decisive. The dynamics of this engine is comparable to Communist and post-Communist oppression: although the engine relies on a combination of pressure and violence, often the threat of violence is sufficient to force the non-state controlled Church underground.

8. Organized corruption and crime: This engine describes the persecution situation where groups or individuals are creating a climate of impunity, anarchy and corruption as a means for self-enrichment. It has two main ‘branches’: (i) corruption within state structures and (ii) corruption of society by organized crime. This engine expresses itself through a combination of systematic pressure caused by fear for violent repercussions in case of non-compliance, and by such violence.

The WWR researcher assesses what level of influence each engine has on society in the country being analyzed.

Explanation of the 5 spheres of life and violence

A ‘five spheres concept’ has been developed to track the various expressions of persecution in the different areas of a Christian’s life. The WWL questionnaire contains questions specific for each sphere and a score is recorded. The maximum for each of the 5 spheres and 1 violence block is 16.667, making a maximum overall score of 100 points when the scores for violence are added.

• Private life: The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free has a Christian been to relate to God one-on-one in his/her own space?”

• Family life: The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free has a Christian been to live his/her Christian convictions within the circle of the family, and how free have Christian families been to conduct their family life in a Christian way?”

• Community life: Community life includes the workplace, business, health care, education, and local public life and civic order. The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free have Christians been individually and collectively to live their Christian convictions within the local community (beyond church life), and how much pressure has the community put on Christians by acts of discrimination, harassment or any other form of persecution?”

• National life: The interaction between Christians and the nation they live in includes rights and laws, the justice system, national public administration and public life. The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free have Christians been individually and collectively to live their Christian convictions beyond their local community, and how much pressure has the legal system put on Christians, and how much pressure have agents of supra-local life put on Christians by acts of misinformation, discrimination, harassment or any other form of persecution?”

• Church life: Church life is understood as the collective exercise by Christians of freedom of thought and conscience, particularly as regards uniting with fellow Christians in worship, life, service and public expression of their faith without undue interference. It also pertains to properties held or used by Christians for these purposes. The guiding WWL question asked is: “How have restrictions, discrimination, harassment or other forms of persecution infringed upon these rights and this collective life of Christian churches, organizations and institutions?”

• Violence is defined as the deprivation of physical freedom or as serious bodily or mental harm to Christians or serious damage to their property and can occur in all spheres of life.

List of drivers of persecution

The term “drivers of persecution (engines)” is used to describe people and/or groups causing hostilities towards Christians in a particular country. WWR uses 12 drivers in its documents:

1. Government officials at any level from local to national
2. Ethnic group leaders
3. Non-Christian religious leaders at any level from local to national
4. Christian religious leaders at any level from local to national
5. Violent religious groups
6. Ideological pressure groups
7. Normal citizens (people from the general public), including mobs
8. Extended family
9. Political parties at any level from local to national
10. Revolutionaries or paramilitary groups
11. Organized crime cartels or networks
12. Multilateral organizations and embassies

Additionally, the WWR researcher assesses the level of influence the drivers of each persecution engine exert in the country being analyzed.




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Source: All information in this page is from Open Doors World Watch Research.

If you have questions about the WWL, please send an e-mail to philippines@od.org.