A shocking rise in violent persecution of Christians is forecast for next year by the charity Release International.
The most dramatic increase is expected to be in the Islamic world, where Christians are finding themselves at ever greater risk of persecution from both the state and Islamic militants.
Persecution of Christians is also on the rise in India, from militant Hindus, and China, where the pressure is continuing to grow on unregistered churches.
The full figures will be published next month in Release International’s annual Persecution Trends report.
The findings are previewed in the January edition of the charity’s magazine, release.
Paul Robinson, chief executive, said: ”Around the world Christians face an increasing array of violent persecutors. These include the brutal Islamic State in the Middle East, heavily armed militants in Nigeria and Hindu extremists in India.
”Our report on the likely trends of persecution in 2017 is a wake-up call to take our prayers and practical support for our persecuted family to a new level.”
In the Middle East, the ongoing conflict in Syria and Iraq continues to force tens of thousands, including Christians, to flee their homes and historic churches in or near the birthplace of Christianity 2000 years ago face the loss of as many has half their members. Some Christian leaders fear a mass exodus of all Christians from the region.
Christians who have escaped Islamic State have told horror stories of torture, sex abused and even crucifixions. With IS now on the run, experts on the ground believe the persecution will worsen as the group battles for survival.
In Iran, the clampdown on underground churches will continue with Christian leaders facing arrest, imprisonment and torture or sometimes being offered bail at $10,000 or more to avoid jail.
Attacks against Christians by Islamist militants in Egypt are continuing.
Nigeria is where Christians are suffering some of the worst atrocities with as many as 15,000 murdered by Boko Haram since 2011 and two million people displaced. Muslim Fulani militants continue to terrorise Christians and others in the north, attacking villages at night, slaughtering peoplewith knives and seizing their land.
In Pakistan, Christian mother Asia Bibi remains on death row for a sixth year on a charge of blasphemy, which she denies, Release reports.
Anyone who dares defend her or try to repeal the blasphemy law risks assassination and the Supreme Court is struggling to find judges willing to hear her appeal. ”Christians in Pakistan are considered third-class citizens,” says a Release partner. ”In 2017 we will face more discrimination, forced conversions and forced marriages.”