“They did evil things to us. They beat us and raped us. The worst of all was girls aged nine who were raped.”(1)

These are the words of Rita Habib, a Christian woman from Iraq’s Nineveh Plains.

Ms Habib described how Daesh (ISIS) extremists kidnapped her from Qaraqosh, a mainly Christian town. Initially, she was held in nearby Mosul, before being transferred to Syria. There she was repeatedly bought and sold in Daesh’s sex slave market.

Her account of persecution (See case study ‘Rita Habib – Daesh (ISIS) captive returns home to Qaraqosh, Iraq’ on p.10) is one of many received by Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for Christians who suffer for their faith. As an organisation providing emergency and pastoral relief in nearly 140 countries around the world, ACN is committed to chronicling and assessing human rights violations against Christians around the world today. Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2017-19 summarises the findings of ACN’s ongoing research, assessing recent patterns of hatred and discrimination.

This 2019 edition of Persecuted and Forgotten? examines key developments in 12 countries of core concern for Christians suffering human rights abuses. Covering a 25-month period from July 2017 to July 2019 (inclusive), the report draws on fact-finding trips carried out by Aid to the Church in Need staff to countries noted for persecution against Christians, for example northern Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and other parts of the world which cannot be revealed because of security concerns. This report shows that, again and again, in Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere, Christian women suffer the most, with reports of abductions, forced conversions and sex attacks.(2)

In spite of the growing wealth of information on the subject, the extent of the crisis facing Christians persecuted for their faith remains little known and understood. While statistical research has offered considerable insight into the topic of Christian persecution, some data has not stood up to scrutiny and is unable to demonstrate that the violence in question is religiously motivated.(3) That said, studies consistently show that Christians suffer significantly high levels of persecution and intolerance. In June 2018, the Pew Research Center stated that over the course of 2016 Christians suffered harassment in 144 countries.(4) By this calculation, Christians emerge as the world’s “most widely targeted”(5) faith group, slightly ahead of Islam.(6) In January 2019, Open Doors estimated in its World Watch List for 2018 that 73 countries with 245 million Christians “showed extreme, very high or high levels of persecution”(7). This was up from 58 countries with 215 million Christians in 2017.(8) The same survey showed that every day on average 11 Christians are killed for their faith in the 50 worst-offending countries.(9)

This evaluation does not set out to be comprehensive. ACN’s essentially qualitative assessment is unable to provide statistics to facilitate a full comparative analysis. In addition, state oppression is entirely different by nature from sporadic acts of violence – and conditions of persecution are not uniform across any one particular country.