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Reported By Leah MarieAnn Klett, Christian Post Reporter 

A woman wears a protective mask as she passes a church on February 8, 2020, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. The number of those who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, in China climbed to 724. Getty Images

Though religious persecution in China and India is expected to increase in 2021, exposure to the Bible is increasing in North Korea, the world’s most repressive country, according to the annual Persecution Trends survey from Release International.

In its latest report, RI, an international Christian watchdog organization for persecuted Christians worldwide, said that persecution is “thriving” in China and will likely increase in the new year. RI cited the recent passage of tough new laws controlling religion, the shuttering of numerous churches, and the increasing number of registered churches forced to install CCTV cameras and put up posters proclaiming communist ideals and beliefs.

However, the Chinese Communist Party has “bought the silence of the international community” through increased dependence on trade, it said.

“The government of President Xi Jinping is increasing its ‘clean up’ of anything that does not advance the communist agenda. They appear to believe that they can achieve this by systematic opposition,” the group warned.

Corroborating other reports, RI said that China has been exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to tighten restrictions on underground believers. Earlier this year, it was reported that amid the outbreak, impoverished Christian villagers in China were ordered to renounce their faith and replace displays of Jesus with portraits of Chairman Mao and President Xi or risk losing their welfare benefits.

“The Chinese government is trying every way to take advantage of the virus by increasing the crackdown against Christian churches,” said RI partner Bob Fu, of ChinaAid. “It has accelerated particular campaigns, such as the forced removal of crosses.”

The group also predicted that in India, intolerance toward Christians and other religious minorities will continue to grow during 2021, largely due to growing Hindu nationalism. RI noted that incidents targeting Indian Christians have risen steeply since 2014, when Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power.  It cited statistics revealing Christians suffered 225 incidents of religiously motivated violence during the first 10 months of 2020, compared to 218 incidents in the same period in 2019. Many of these attacks were by vigilante mobs.

In September 2020, Hindu extremists incited mobs of up to 3,000 people to attack Christians in three villages in Chhattisgarh state.

Thomas Schirrmacher, the newly-appointed head of The World Evangelical Alliance, which represents over 600 million evangelical Christians worldwide, previously told The Christian Post that Hindu supremacism is the driver of much of the persecution in that country.

“Elections are won by the prime minister with this topic: ‘India is for the Hindus,’ and suddenly Muslims and Christians find themselves in a country that clearly wants to get rid of them,” he said. “They promote the idea that an Indian by nature is a Hindu. So if he is not a Hindu, he has been stolen, and must be re-converted.”

“This idea was not on the market 10 years ago, and has led to an increase in discrimination and killings of Indian Christians and other minorities,” he said, adding that Christians in Western countries must “speak up” for those persecuted for their faith.

The report was part of RI’s annual Persecution Trends Survey, which was published in the recent edition of Release International’s Voice magazine. In addition to China and India, RI predicted Malaysia, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and Nigeria will also face increased persecution in the coming year. Interestingly, the group said that RI partners have been able to double their distribution of Bibles to Christians in North Korea throughout 2020, despite COVID restrictions. According to Open Doors USA, North Korea is ranked No. 1 on its list of countries where it’s most difficult for Christians to live.

“This has been the most creative year we have witnessed in the underground church to date,” the group said. A previous report found that the percentage of North Korean citizens who are exposed to the Bible is steadily increasing every year despite extreme persecution.

Before 2000, only 16 people claimed to have seen a Bible. After 2000, up to 559 North Korean defectors said they had “seen a Bible,” even though religious literature is banned in the isolated country.

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