Persecution of Christians

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Persecution of Christians is a systematic social or state oppression or existential threat to Christians because of their religious affiliation . There are many examples of this, both historical and contemporary.

Persecution of Christians can be part of a state's religious policy . Likewise, persecution of Christians can be part of the minority policy of a state in which Christians are a religious minority . Persecution of Christians can also take place informally in the context of ethnic conflicts or social upheavals.

Problem situation

According to estimates by the International Society for Human Rights , the International Institute for Religious Freedom , the Catholic human rights organization Church in Need and the evangelical organization Christian Solidarity International , 75 to 80 percent of the people who are currently persecuted for their beliefs profess Christianity . Even Amnesty International reported systematic persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in various countries, including Christians. The Christian aid organization Open Doors , which does its own research, estimates that more than 200 million Christians worldwide are persecuted or discriminated against. According to its World Persecution Index of 2019, the strongest persecution of Christians takes place in Islamic countries, with the number of documented religiously motivated murders of Christians increasing by a third compared to the previous year. The International Religious Freedom Report of the United States Department of State includes persecution of Christians and also reports on countries with special problems in the Executive Summary. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt commissioned the Independent Review of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians interim report: Foreign Secretary's statement (May 2019 interim report ), which states that "worldwide persecution of Christians is almost at 'genocide' level." At a hearing by the Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid at the German Bundestag , experts, including representatives of the German Evangelical Alliance, stated that there was “no systematic persecution” of Christians in the Arab region, but criticized their lack of state protection and a lack of legal equality. The federal government replied to a major question as early as 1999 that the persecution of Christians of all denominations had reached very worrying proportions in recent years. Christians are discriminated against because of their beliefs, they lose their jobs and homes, "are imprisoned, kidnapped, mutilated and murdered, their churches are burned down and their houses destroyed". The Vienna-based Monitoring Center for intolerance and discrimination against Christians in Europe (Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians) (OIDAC) monitoring the situation of Christians in Europe. In their 2018 annual report, they presented over 500 cases of intolerance against Christians in Europe. The aid organization Church in Need said 2019 was one of the bloodiest years for Christians.


The Last Prayer of Christians in the Circus Maximus , oil painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1863–1883)

In church history , the persecution of Christians is the term used to describe the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire until the Milan Agreement in 313.

Collective persecution of Christian communities and churches took place under their own historical conditions, also in the sphere of influence of Islam , nationalism , real socialism and national socialism . They ranged from arrests, bans on Christian gatherings and worship services , and expropriations targeted against Christian communities to expulsions, massacres, rape, murder and genocide . The mere rejection of Christian teachings, discrimination or the legal restriction of church activities are not described as “persecution”. State measures threatening the existence of Christians, which did not affect Christians primarily because of their Christianity, but for other reasons and with other groups, are not included, nor are persecutions of Christian minorities by other Christians.

Some also define local, non-state discrimination against and murder of Christians as persecution of Christians, others only state oppression or social persecution with fatalities.

The Open Doors World Persecution Index measures Christian persecution by four characteristics:

  1. Legal and official status of Christians
    • Is religious freedom anchored in the state constitution or state laws with the right to public assembly?
    • Do citizens have the right to convert to Christianity with impunity?
    • Is there a mandatory state religion for every citizen?
    • Are Christians allowed to practice their religion in public?
  2. The real situation of Christians living in the country
    • Are Christians Arrested or Killed for Their Faith?
    • Are Christians sentenced to prison, labor camp, or psychiatric for their faith?
  3. Regulations by the state
    • May Christian literature and Bibles be printed, distributed or introduced in the country?
    • Are Christian publications censored / banned?
    • Can churches be built, renovated or rooms rented / bought for church purposes?
  4. Factors that can undermine religious freedom in a country
    • Are Christian meeting places or their homes attacked for anti-Christian motives?
    • Are authorities investigating complaints and reports from Christians about non-state abuse?

Emir Fethi Caner and Ergun Mehmet Caner summarize murder, enslavement, rape, torture, kidnapping, death penalty, prison, dishonor, expropriation of converts to Christianity , prohibition of Christian religious instruction, church building or possession of a Bible under the keywords persecution and discrimination of Christians.


Roman Empire

Faithful unto Death , oil painting by Herbert Schmalz (1888)

See: Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire up to the Milan Agreement in 313.

Late antiquity


In the late ancient Sassanid Empire , in which Zoroastrianism played a prominent role, there was a systematic persecution of Christians in the 4th century under Shapur II , after there had already been isolated attacks by the state (e.g. under Bahram II ) ( see also Simon bar Sabbae ). This persecution, about which the chronicle of Seert and several acts of martyrs provide information, was primarily politically motivated, since Christianity had been privileged almost at the same time in the Roman Empire and the Persian great king feared collaboration between his Christian subjects and the Romans.

In Armenia , too , which was claimed and partially controlled by the Sassanids ( Persarmenia ), Christians were repeatedly persecuted for political reasons. In the 5th century the "Nestorian" Assyrian Church of the East was formed in Persia as a kind of "Inner-Persian Church". Subsequently, the Persian kings were largely settled with their Christian subjects and there were only isolated attacks. As a result of the Roman-Persian wars in the 6th and 7th centuries, the Christians were sometimes subjected to reprisals again, for example under Chosrau I (in his second half of government) and under Chosrau II (towards the end of his rule, see Yazdin and Anastasius der Persians ). When the Arabs conquered the Sassanid Empire in the 30s and 40s of the 7th century as part of the Islamic expansion , they found numerous flourishing Christian communities, especially in the West, which mostly perished in the following period.

Yemen, Oman

In the area of ​​today's Yemen and Oman , the ruling Himyars converted to Judaism at the beginning of the 6th century in order not to be worn out in the Roman-Persian wars between the Christian Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanid Empire determined by Zoroastrianism . Especially under the ninth Jewish king Yusuf Asʾar Yathʾar (Dhu Nuvas) there was a bloody persecution of Christians, which affected the " Nestorians ", but especially the Miaphysites . He wanted to force them to convert to Judaism and feared an intervention from Eastern Europe.

A conference convened by the Lachmids in Ramla , about which Prokopios of Caesarea reports, among others , was supposed to end the wars between Eastern Stream and the Sassanid Empire (525). There Dhu Nuwas urged the Sassanid ruler to persecute the Christians of his country as well. Thereupon Ostrom caused the friendly Christian empire of Aksum to conquer Yemen. Since Dhu Nuwas repeatedly expelled and killed Christian traders from Aksum, Aksum followed the request and ended the Jewish line of kings in Yemen with his conquest.

middle Ages

Islamic countries

According to Islamic jurisprudence, Christians as so-called script owners could live as dhimmis under Islamic rule . This was accompanied by the payment of the jizya , for which they were guaranteed protection of life and property as well as a certain degree of religious freedom. Nevertheless - even in the early days of Islam - there were isolated attacks against Christians (see, for example, the chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell Mahre ).

The apostasy is part of Islamic doctrine to the worst possible and not forgiving enabled sins. For example, it says in sura 4 , verse 137:

"Those who believe and then disbelieve, then believe again and then disbelieve again, and then increase in disbelief, God will not possibly forgive them and He will not possibly lead them on a right path."

- Translation to Khoury ; see. u. a. 2: 217 and 16: 106 f.

While the Koran does not provide for any punishment of apostates in this world, they are to be killed according to Islamic law .

Islamic and Christian rulers have fought each other since the Middle Ages in the disputed areas of the Mediterranean - especially in Asia Minor , Africa and Spain . Later there was mutual persecution of the minorities of the other religion in the countries ruled by one religion.

Massacres of Christians and Jews in the context of the Crusades are known . Under the Almohads , Moors and Seljuks , Catholic and Orthodox Christians were sometimes systematically expelled and murdered.

See also: Freedom of Belief in Islam

Modern times


Christian Martyrs in Nagasaki - 17th Century

→ Main article: Christianity in Japan

After the first landing of Portuguese sailors on Japan in 1542, Christian proselytizing began very soon under the leadership of Francisco de Xavier . In the following decades several hundred thousand Japanese, including some princely families ( daimyō ), converted to Christianity with the tolerance of the central government that was only being formed at that time.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi already expelled the missionaries from the country around 1587, since he saw the influence of Jesuit , but above all Franciscan missionaries, a threat to his position of power. For economic reasons, however, this decree was rarely enforced. It was not until 1597, a year before Hideyoshi's death, that 26 Christians were crucified ( martyrs of Nagasaki ).

Hideyoshi's successor Tokugawa Ieyasu was initially tolerant, as he was dependent on trade with the Portuguese, and probably also through the influence of his English advisor William Adams . But after Adams' death, and after trade relations developed with Holland and England (which also made the conflict between Roman Catholic Christianity and Protestantism in Japan known), the attitude among his successors changed. The reason for this was the fear of Christian religious wars in Japan as well as the recognition that many Christians showed greater loyalty to one another and to the church than to the Tennō and the Shogun . From around 1612 Christianity was gradually banned. In 1616, the Japanese authorities gave residents who had converted to Christianity the choice between a death sentence and a renunciation, whereby the oath had to be sworn by the Triune God , the Virgin Mary and the angels , as well as an oath addressed to Buddhist and Shinto deities.

This development reached its climax under Ieyasu's successors Tokugawa Hidetada and Tokugawa Iemitsu , especially after the predominantly Christian population in Kyushu rose up against the shogunate in the Shimabara uprising in 1637 . The uprising was bloodily suppressed and over 40,000 Christians were killed. Prosecution agencies were set up to persecute and exterminate Christians nationwide. Anyone suspected of being a Christian had to publicly turn away from Christianity and desecrate Christian symbols called fumie (“ step images”), as well as registering themselves in the religious registers of Buddhist temples and visiting them regularly. Those who refused to renounce their Christian faith were executed, often by public crucifixion or cremation.

During this phase of persecution, Japanese Christianity developed into a new syncretic religion, the Kakure Kirishitan , with influences from Buddhism , Daoism and Shinto . After the renewed approval of Christianity (1873 under Tennō Meiji ), the followers of this belief incorporated into the newly emerging Christian communities, but some also refused because their strongly modified religion was not accepted by Western church organizations. Today they form a dwindling minority, but their beliefs live on in a number of the so-called “ new religions ”.


→ Main article: De-Christianization

The French Revolution in 1789 was not initially anti-church. The slogan freedom, equality, fraternity was also supported by many priests. In 1790 a law decreed the abolition of non-charitable monasteries . Their convents and lands, such as those of the Catholic clergy , were expropriated and often sold to townspeople.

Most church officials refused to take the oath on the new constitution and were then imprisoned by the tens of thousands and deported , often executed. In the following years the farmers who were dependent on the former church property became impoverished. In 1793, the National Assembly tried to force large numbers of recruits to serve in the country against foreign troops. This was followed by uprisings , especially in the Vendée , which were suppressed. Hundreds of thousands of people are said to have been killed; some areas lost a third of their population.

In the same year religious freedom was revoked and Christianity banned. After the end of the Jacobin reign of terror , however, it was permitted again in 1795. In 1798 the French occupied Rome, deposed the Pope and proclaimed the Roman Republic. In 1799, Napoléon Bonaparte came to power through a coup d'état and from then on permanently guaranteed the Christian practice of religion, but without allowing the power of the Roman Pope in France again.

Whether this course is to be regarded as a systematic persecution of Christians or rather as a denominational overlaying civil war is historically controversial. The attacks of the revolutionaries on the papacy contributed to the fact that the following popes and Catholics were skeptical and hostile to the Enlightenment and democracy . This also had consequences in the later Kulturkampf in the German Empire. (see also anti-modernist oath )

Ottoman Empire

In 1894 there was a massacre of the Orthodox Armenians in the mountains of Sassun in the ( Muş province ) . These were harassed by the Kurds and not protected by the Turkish government. When they subsequently refused to pay taxes at the resistance of Sason in 1894 and demonstrated in Istanbul , the authorities all over Turkey took action against them: According to official documents, 328 churches were converted into mosques, 88,243 Armenians were killed and countless Armenians baptized Christian were forced to convert to Islam. Only these were safe from further persecution.

The Arameans , an old Christian minority of around 150,000 in the Kurdish mountains, were affected as early as 1895 . Many fled abroad, for example to Syria and Iraq. As a result, the remaining Christian communities were often looted; by 1896 another estimated 20,000 Turkish Armenians died of starvation, epidemics and robbery. Up to 100,000 Armenian women are said to have been deported to Muslim harems .

1909 brought renewed persecution in the Adana massacre . In 1916 , during the First World War , this resulted in a systematic deportation aimed at the extermination of the Armenian people : the men - including those in the Turkish army - were killed immediately, the women and children abducted, most of them later death found. This affected around 1.3 million people, about two thirds of whom perished.

The Christians who were able to flee from Turkey to Iraq at that time were persecuted there again in 1933, for example in the Semile massacre . Nationalist reasons played a role in this: the Christians among the Kurds, with the support of the British and French, had strived for an independent state and thus attracted the hatred of the Turkish nationalists and the Iraqi pan-Arabists . The formal occasion was an alleged violation of non-religious state laws; there was, however, a religious hatred of Christians. Only about 30,000 Aramaic Christians survived. (see genocide of the Aramaeans )


From the beginning, the Second Spanish Republic was marked by strong anti-clericalism and an effort to weaken the influence of the Catholic Church. The constitution already subjected the public practice of religion to state control and restricted the freedom of action of religious orders. B. the activity in the classroom was banned. The Jesuit order was dissolved in 1932, the same was made possible by law for other orders. The “Law of Denominations and Religious Congregation” of 1933 further restricted the freedom of the Church and the Order.

In the first months of the Second Republic, churches were burned down in various Spanish cities without the government intervening or prosecuting the perpetrators. The destruction of churches was intensified after the election victory of the Popular Front in February 1936 : 170 churches were burned down in the first four months after the election, and the complete destruction of 251 more churches was prevented. The persecution peaked after the start of the military uprising in July 1936 . In early 1937, the Republican Attorney General described the situation:

“The actual situation of the Church in all loyal territory except the Basque Country has been as follows since July of last year: a) All altars, images and cult objects, with very few exceptions, have been destroyed [...] b) All churches are for the Service closed, which was completely [...] suspended. c) A large part of the churches, which is the norm in Catalonia, was burned down. […] E) Warehouses of all kinds, markets, garages, halls, barracks, accommodation […] were set up in the churches. f) All the convents were emptied and religious life ended in them. Their buildings, cult objects and goods of all kinds were burned, stolen, occupied and torn down. g) Priests and religious have been arrested without charge, thrown in prison and shot […] Hundreds of prisoners are held in the prisons of Madrid, Barcelona and the other major cities simply for the fact that they are priests or religious. h) In the meantime, the private ownership of images and objects of religious worship is completely prohibited. The police […] penetrate the interior of apartments […] and destroy with scorn and violence […] what has to do with religion or reminds of it. "

As far as is known, 13 bishops, 4,184 diocesan priests and seminarians , 2,365 men and women religious, 283 women religious and several thousand lay people fell victim to the persecution of the Catholic Church in the Second Republic .

National Socialism

→ Main article: Church struggle

During the time of National Socialism (1933–1945) there was no systematic persecution of Christians, but persecution of clergy and believers who protested against the regime's policies for religious reasons. The party program of the National Socialist German Workers' Party from 1925 professed a “positive Christianity” but with the restrictive addition “as far as it is compatible with Germanness”. Even before the seizure of power , the German episcopate distanced itself from National Socialism by forbidding Catholics from becoming involved in the NSDAP and forbidding Nazi associations from marching in church processions . In 1932, all dioceses in the German Reich felt compelled to declare membership of the NSDAP “incompatible with the Christian faith” . After the seizure of power, Adolf Hitler's declaration of government guaranteed the continued existence of the churches and described Christianity as one of the spiritual foundations of the German people.

But the NSDAP saw itself as a ideological party with a totalitarian claim to power. Everything should be subjected to the service of the “German nationality ” and the “Aryan race ”. Christianity was reinterpreted by the National Socialists as the “national religion”, which was intended to emphasize the “will to power” ( Friedrich Nietzsche ) and above all to define itself against “Jewish subhumanity”. Hitler's anti-Semitism was based on racialism and linked to a diffuse metaphysics , as he wrote in Mein Kampf in 1923 :

"In defending myself against the Jew, I fight for the work of the Lord."

Alfred Rosenberg formulated the actual goals of the National Socialists in his myth of the 20th century in 1930: In the “blood” he found “the divine essence of man in general”. He understood “national honor” as the worship of this being and made it a religion. For him, “God” became a symbolic cipher for the collective unconscious, understood as a race, which struggled for power in the eternal struggle for existence. Insofar as Christianity opposes the “German rebirth”, it is a duty to overcome it spiritually, to let it wither organizationally and to keep it politically impotent . Internal conquest and external disempowerment of the church were therefore closely related.

The Vatican under Pius XI. concluded a Reich Concordat with the Third Reich in 1933 and was thus able to preserve the organizational structure of the Catholic dioceses . Respected bishops such as Clemens August Graf von Galen , the quasi-resigned bishop of the Diocese of Rottenburg Joannes Baptista Sproll , Archbishop of Freiburg Conrad Gröber , the Bishop of Berlin , Konrad Graf von Preysing , the Provost of Berlin, Bernhard Lichtenberg , the Vicar Capitular of Paderborn , auxiliary bishop Augustinus Philipp Baumann or the Bishop of Limburg , Antonius Hilfrich were even able to slow down murders such as the T4 campaign at times through their resolute protest . Members of the White Rose resistance group became martyrs for their Christian sentiments. The so-called Kreuzkampf in 1936 in the Catholic Münsterland and Oldenburger Land against the removal of the crucifixes from schools and public spaces, which was demanded by the National Socialists, led to the arrest of some leaders.

The tests, using the German Christians the (DC) Protestantism same switch failed due to the resistance of a minority. The Barmer Theological Declaration in June 1934 openly stated the contrast between Christian faith and Nazi ideology. The Confessing Church (BK), which was based on this creed, was then increasingly hindered. The pastor training of the BK, their correspondence, their aid activities for Jews ( Grüber office ) were gradually banned. Many of their pastors lost their jobs; some who had protested publicly against anti-Jewish measures were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Several hundred were murdered there or died as a result of imprisonment.

Almost all state measures to displace and expel the Jews, however, also initially met with approval from the BK church leaders. They criticized neither the Jewish boycott in 1933, the Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935, nor the November pogroms in 1938 , but instead recognized the National Socialist “ authorities ” as God's ordinance in the Lutheran tradition and only contradicted their direct encroachments on church order and teaching. Only a few BK members like Paul Schneider or Dietrich Bonhoeffer derived from their faith the duty of unconditional solidarity with the Jews and direct resistance against National Socialism as a whole, for which they were murdered.

At the beginning of the war in 1939, the BK together with the DC called on all Christians to be willing to make sacrifices and to devote themselves to their fatherland . Their pastors were called up for military service; part of it was used in the pastoral care of the Wehrmacht . By then the regional churches had dismissed the few baptized Jews from church offices as a result of the Aryan paragraph .

A Christian minority collectively persecuted by the Nazi regime were the Jehovah's Witnesses . Because of their biblicism , many of them refused to give the Hitler salute and, after the reintroduction of compulsory military service, opted for conscientious objection . They were then interned; around 1200 were murdered in German concentration camps (see Jehovah's Witnesses under National Socialism ).

In the course of the war, the state tightened anti-church measures: public holidays were restricted, baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals were replaced by party celebrations, church law in the Warthegau was converted to association law, and church finances were centrally controlled. Christians in territories occupied by Germany were persecuted: single- Dachau concentration camp at the local priest block were more than 2,800 clergy, including nearly 2,600 Catholic priests from Poland , Germany , the Netherlands and other countries, detained, of which survived only about half. Almost 2,000 Polish clergy died in the concentration camps, 548 of whom were shot dead. A total of 16% of the Catholic priests were murdered during the German occupation of Poland. Numerous friars and sisters were executed or perished in concentration camps.

The Nazi regime did not officially plan a targeted destruction of Christianity, but probably an empire-wide dissolution of church structures and gradual replacement by a Germanic-Nordic folk religion for the time after the war. This is indicated by statements from Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich , whose SS members mostly belonged to the group of "believers in God", and the procedure in the Warthegau . Hitler himself kept his distance to Alfred Rosenberg and the anti-Christian wing of the party and presented himself as standing above the denominations; privately, however, since the beginning of the war he has often expressed his aversion to the “Jewish spirit” of Christianity, whose “de-Jewification” is urgently needed.

The Holocaust was a people and a religion for all of Judaism; today this attempt at extermination is partly indirectly related to the Christian faith, which regards Judaism as the root and as "older brothers". The surviving Auschwitz inmate Elie Wiesel said:

"The thoughtful Christian knows that it was not the Jewish people who died in Auschwitz, but Christianity."


As early as 1900 during the Boxer uprising against the European colonial powers, there was a massacre of Christians in what was then still imperial China . Their branches were destroyed and, above all, foreign missionaries and their families were murdered or executed. Christianity was considered the religion of the Europeans, whose culture the Chinese youth had opened up since 1919. In the course of the national revolution (1925–1927) of the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek , however, numerous domestic and foreign Christians were again murdered.

Under Mao Zedong , a variant of communism prevailed in China in 1949 , which, like Stalinism, was based on peasants, military power and forced industrialization. The atheism became part of the state doctrine: All religions, especially the western, were suppressed. During the Korean War , Mao also supported North Korea's action against the Christians. In the cultural revolution carried out by his Red Guards, campaigns of destruction against mosques, churches and cultural assets from the imperial era began in 1966. In the course of this, pogroms were perpetrated on alleged or real opponents of the system, to which the Christians were counted.

In China, Christians who refuse to join the state-controlled Protestant three-self church TSPM are persecuted. Above all, the Chinese government fears large Christian groups that have contact with other countries, especially America. In October 2010 around 200 delegates from the underground churches were prevented from leaving for Cape Town. You were on your way to the World Mission Congress Lausanne III . In China there are great differences in the way Christians are harassed. The provinces of Hebei and Henan are considered to be particularly repressive .

Eastern bloc countries

In the course of the advance of the Red Army , the peoples of the Baltic States , who had been Christian for centuries, suffered a wave of persecution that hit millions of people in 1944/45 - as in the Russian Civil War in 1919/20: They were killed directly or deported administratively. This resettlement policy under the rule of Stalinism amounted to mass extermination ; it was fed by national Russian, Stalinist-ideological and imperialist motives.

The churches were affected and also meant: in Estonia , from 1940 onwards, the churches suffered from anti-church agitation by the state, a ban on public activities by the church and the deportation of clergy. In Lithuania , which was predominantly Catholic at the time of the Soviet occupation , clergymen were systematically persecuted. In Belarus , Ukraine and the rest of the Eastern Bloc, too , the now communist state leaderships took anti-church and anti-Christian measures of varying severity after 1945. In Albania , both Muslim and Christian clergymen were consistently removed from all offices and suppressed, so that this country saw itself as the first atheist state in the world. When the total ban on religion was issued in 1967, the communists put all priests and religious in prisons and labor camps.

In Hungary , Yugoslavia , Poland and the GDR , the state authorities tried since the 1950s to suppress Christianity from the public eye by socially disadvantaging church members and professing Christians. Only since the domestic political reforms under Gorbachev have these restrictions been gradually relaxed.


The persecution of the Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia in particular was carried out with an abundance of coercive and violent measures and, after those in Albania, is one of the most severe persecution of Christians in the communist era in Europe. Priests, bishops and religious were interned and had to do forced labor . There were also bans on pastoral care. Under this pressure, episcopal and priestly ordinations were often carried out secretly, and officials were often prevented from exercising their office. Parents who sent their children to religious education had to expect job losses.

Soviet Union

The Orthodox Church in Russia was very closely linked to tsarism . A fundamental paradigm shift occurred with the October Revolution : the old forces of clergy, feudal nobility and the state were ousted. Then there was the religious criticism of Marxism , which viewed every religion as a pillar of class society predestined to “wither” .

Orthodox Christianity was primarily affected by this. The Bolsheviks carried out a strict separation of church and state , abolished all denominational privileges, banned religious instruction in schools, and dissolved the monasteries and parishes. Contrary to the theory, they did not wait until religion disappeared of its own accord with the change in social conditions, but took measures during the course of the Russian Civil War (1917–1920) to which numerous priests fell victim: These were given as "non-workers" no ration cards or were killed or banned as “counter-revolutionaries” without trial, which amounted to a death sentence.

This persecution often arose spontaneously on site without a central directive. From 1920, the party also declared all bishopric activities illegal: only the parishes remained. At times even sects, free churches and the Soviet-friendly “ living church ” were subsidized by the state in order to destroy the Orthodox Church. However, this split could not last long.

In 1922 the church treasures were confiscated across the country. Part of the Orthodox clergy resisted. Exiled Russians demanded the restoration of the monarchy in Russia in Karlowitz in 1921 and in Genoa in 1922 and urged the Europeans to embark on a crusade against the Bolsheviks . They responded with a decision to actively re-educate the masses to replace their religious consciousness.

In 1927 Josef Stalin forced the establishment of kolkhozes as part of the “ deculakization ”, which was directed against the traditionally Christian kulaks . In the following years thousands of churches were closed, Sunday was abolished as a public holiday and many simple farmers and their village chaplains were murdered.

Ten years later, an ordered census showed that a high proportion of Russians still professed Christianity. By 1939 the state intensified its re-education, expropriation and extermination steps. How many clergy , religious and lay people fell victim to the Stalinist purges is unknown, as the authorities did not differentiate clergy from opponents of the regime. The Orthodox Church states that 120,000 priests, monks, nuns and church workers were arrested between 1917 and 1940 alone; 96,000 of them were shot. In the late 1930s, fewer than a dozen churches were still officially open.

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Stalin changed his religious policy in the German-Soviet war : he tried to mobilize Russian patriotism for the defensive war and now tolerated orthodoxy. In 1943 the all-Russian patriarchate was restored; even monasteries were allowed to be rebuilt. Other smaller churches continued to be persecuted.

After the Second World War there were around 52,000 Russian Orthodox priests and deacons; In 1914 there were over 203,000. Part of the Russian patriarchate, traditionally committed to the authorities, now sought to come to terms with the rulers more closely.

Since about 1970 the Politburo of the CPSU has been working again more closely with the Orthodox Church, which, under Russian national auspices, analogous to the CPSU, endeavored to unite all Orthodox Christians in the world under its leadership. In the Soviet Union , the Roman Catholic Church continued to be persecuted. The underground newspaper Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church reported for eighteen years (1972–1990) on the persecution of Catholics.


→ Main article: Christians and the Church in the GDR

In 1953, many young Christians were expelled from secondary schools in the GDR, the young community and student communities were publicly labeled as anti-state organizations and observed by the secret service. At semi-legal church meetings, young Christians and pacifists were also arrested in individual cases. With the state “ youth consecration ” the SED tried to offer an alternative to confirmation and communion in order to gradually dry up the churches. The ties between the East German regional churches and the EKD in the west were made more difficult organizationally.

Part of the East German regional church leaderships and pastors saw themselves as the “Church in Socialism”. This accused other Christians of the GDR of opportunism towards the atheistic state and the abandonment of basic Christian values. In the course of the peace movement of the 1980s, however, the churches became a reservoir and mouthpiece for oppositional currents, which despite intensive state surveillance were able to help prepare the turning point of 1989 .


Christianity is the world's most oppressed religious community. The Christian aid organization Open Doors states that around 200 million Christians in around 60 countries around the world are threatened with abuse , torture , rape , imprisonment or death because of their beliefs or are disadvantaged and discriminated against because of their beliefs. A report on the persecution of Christians commissioned by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in May 2019 found that the persecution of Christians in some parts of the world has reached genocide- like proportions and that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world.

In the yearbook on the persecution of Christians "Märtyrer 2006", the managing director of the working group for religious freedom of the Germans and the Austrian Evangelical Alliance , the theologian Thomas Schirrmacher , writes that the proportion of Christians who murder people because of their religious affiliation is likely to be well over 90 percent.

Probably the most comprehensive study on the subject of religious persecution by the state is Jonathan Fox "The unfree exercise of religion: a world survey of discrimination against religious minorities", 2016. It examines all discrimination against religious minorities worldwide and draws up tables of the degrees of persecution, of the prohibition of wearing religious symbols, of possessing religious writings until execution. In addition, the study was not commissioned by a religious community. Fox notes that Christians as a minority are the most persecuted group, conversely, as a majority, they are among the least persecuting, alongside Shintoists and shamanists. The religious group least persecuted as a minority worldwide are Muslims, the most repressive states are those with a Muslim majority or Islam as the state religion, above all the Gulf states including Iran (Fox places Saudi Arabia ahead of North Korea). However, the study does not deal with the intensity of repression in relation to the size of the group - Christians form the largest religious community in the world. Small groups like Yazidis are threatened with extinction. Historically, Jews are possibly the most intensely persecuted group in the world, with anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic aggression currently being carried out primarily by non-state actors.

Die Weltwoche describes the scariest thing about the phenomenon as the global silence about it, which could have come about at least in part due to fear of Islamophobia . David B. Barrett of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates there are 100,000 Christian martyrs per year . The sociologists Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke come in their study The Price of Freedom Denied (Cambridge) on 130,000 to 170,000 murdered Christians. According to the Weltwoche article, these figures are controversial among experts because it is not clear where the authors get their data from. The calculation methods and the exact measurement period are also not clear.

North Korea

According to Opendoors' World Persecution Index, North Korea has been the most persecuted state since 2002. About 100 years ago, Pyongyang , the capital of North Korea, with 100 churches was considered a kind of Jerusalem of the East. The four churches that are supposed to feign religious freedom are just a tourist attraction. In North Korea, Christianity is seen as a dangerous foreign influence. The number of Christians in North Korea is estimated at 300,000.

Islamic world

Almost all Islamic states have signed human rights declarations since 1948 or have written their own. In contrast to the Western, humanistically shaped declarations, however, the Sharia forms the foundation of the legal system in many Islamic countries , as in the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam of 1990. The binding of human rights to exclusively Muslim beliefs means that there is no general legal protection for all people in most Islamic countries.

The countries where Christians are most persecuted are mostly states where Islam is the religion of the majority population. According to the World Persecution Index 2012, the ten countries in which Christians are exposed to the greatest persecution are nine Islamic countries (Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iran, Maldives, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan). In total, there are 38 Islamic countries among the fifty indexed countries. In countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, the Maldives, Yemen and Afghanistan, Islam is the state religion. The Turkey that have become secular understands State does not recognize many Christian communities as a legal person and prohibits them the rights of a union (possession of bank accounts or real estate) and the formation of priests. The mainly Orthodox and Catholic Christians in Turkey live with regular attacks, including physical attacks. During a state visit in October 2010, Federal President Christian Wulff pointed out that freedom of religion is a human right and met representatives of the Christian minorities.

In 2006, on the occasion of the "cartoon controversy" and the Regensburg quote from Benedict XVI. also in Pakistan and the Palestinian territories attacks on institutions in western countries and individual attacks on churches and Christians. After the attack on Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt in early 2011, Benedict XVI. the governments of the countries of the Middle East to better protect Christians. The Foreign Ministry in Cairo interpreted the Pope's remarks about the situation of Christians in Egypt as an unacceptable "interference in the internal affairs" of the country.

Indonesia ranks 47th in the 2014 World Tracking Index. Compared to previous years, the attacks on Christians have more than doubled. Indonesia is therefore one of the countries in which the situation of Christians has deteriorated significantly in recent years. In 2012, the authorities in the Indonesian province of Aceh called on Christians to abandon their churches. Some churches are also being demolished by Muslims, even though they have a building permit.

The only state with a majority Muslim population where there is no discrimination at all on religious grounds is Gambia , according to the Islamic scholar Rita Breuer . The reason for this is the secular constitution of the state. But of course there are also other countries where a more liberal Islam is practiced or the rulers see Christians as alliance partners against Islamism , such as Jordan or Morocco .


Before 2011 there were around 1.1 million Christians in Syria. From the beginning of the conflict in the same year to March 2015, an estimated 700,000 of them fled, including around 30,000 from Aleppo and around 10,000 Christians from Homs . According to the archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, there were no more Christians living in the 35 Assyrian villages along the Chabur in the northeast on February 27, 2015. He previously reported that the Arab-Sunni population near the village of Hassake had shown solidarity with Christians in individual cases. In the Idlib region in northwest Syria, Christians also tried to flee and, in individual cases, were helped by Islamist fighters on their flight, for example by escorting 20 families to the Turkish border. In recent months, many members of the Assyrian Christian minority have died or have been taken hostage in attacks or attacks by the Islamic State , with some women and children being released. Many of their structures, including churches, have since been destroyed.


In Egypt , the Christian Copts are officially accepted, but in practice they are often exposed to attacks from the population, against which they find little protection from the state and which are hardly punished by the state. The conversion of Muslims to Christianity is made more difficult by legal hurdles and harassment of the authorities when entering the religion in the personal papers. The Mohammed Hegazy case is a well-known example of this practice.

After the “mass executions” ( Human Rights Watch ) of over 1000 participants in two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo against the military coup of July 3, 2013 (“ Rabia massacre ”) went through the military-backed post-coup regime on August 14, 2013 Islamists used violence against Christian churches and Christian property in Egypt, with at least four deaths on August 14 and 15, 2013 in Al-Minya and the greater Cairo area. Amnesty International identified pro-Morsi groups as the perpetrators of some of these incidents, i.e. supporters of the first free-electoral but overthrown President of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi .


In Afghanistan converting from Islam to Christianity can be punished with the death penalty. However, the law applicable there is not clear. A lawsuit against Abdul Rahman was dismissed because of formal errors.


About 1.5 million Christians belonged to the Iraqi population and the targeted terrorism against Christians, both in Baghdad and in Mosul , was described by Tilman Zülch of the Society for Threatened Peoples in 2007 as the “largest expulsion of Christians today”. Since 2003, according to the SonntagsZeitung, half of the 1.3 million Christians in Iraq have left the country, according to CNN even a million. In January 2008, bombs were placed in churches and Christian institutions. The Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho , died in March 2008 in captivity of kidnappers, and other Christian clergy were kidnapped and murdered. At the end of September 2008, a new wave of attacks broke out in Mosul, killing at least 14 Christians and causing tens of thousands to flee within two weeks.

After 2014, the ISIS the city of Mosul had brought under their control, the Christian inhabitants were forced to leave the city or the Islam convert , not to lose their lives. Thereupon the remaining 25,000–35,000 Christians left the city. Combat groups of Christians were formed in 2014 and are sometimes at odds among themselves, depending on which other militia they join forces with. According to the head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation's Jordan office in Jordan , Otmar Oehring, IS has since dealt "absolutely arbitrarily" with the Christian minority and since 2014 around 100,000 Christians have moved from the Nineveh Plain to the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan , to Erbil , Dohuk and Zakho fled. Christian militiamen, for example, fought together with Peshmerga to recapture Baghdida (Qarakosh) and other places previously inhabited by Christians.

The number of around 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq before 2013 fell to less than 120,000 in 2019.


In Iran , converting from Islam to Christianity carries the death penalty. The Iranian parliament passed a law on September 9, 2008, which makes the death penalty mandatory for apostasy . The law was passed with 196 votes in favor, seven against and two abstentions. Two Iranians, Mahmood Matin Azad, 52, and Arash Basirat, 44, were charged with apostasy in 2008 and were imprisoned for several months. They denied the transfer and the charges were dismissed as unproven. Yousef Nadarkhani , who converted from Islam to Protestant Christianity at the age of 19, had been in captivity since 2009 and was awaiting execution. In September 2012 he was released after international protests.


Since the fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi , there has been repeated violence against Christians. Islamists kidnapped and beheaded twenty-one Coptic Christians. On January 15, 2015, the EU Parliament passed a resolution on the situation in Libya. It reads: “The EU Parliament calls on all parties in Libya to guarantee the security and freedom of Christians and other religious minorities who are facing increasing persecution and discrimination; calls on the EU and member states to ensure that future bilateral agreements include sensible mechanisms to protect the human rights of Christians and religious minorities. "


Saudi Arabia

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia , Abd al-Aziz ibn Abdullah , issued a fatwa in March 2012 calling for the destruction of all churches on the Arabian Peninsula . Protests by members of the German Bundestag were limited to a statement by Frank Heinrich ( CDU ).


The Islamic legal system, the Sharia , currently prevails in the 11 northern states of Nigeria . Violent attacks have resulted in many deaths, churches and church institutions have been destroyed or burned down. More than 30,000 Christians have been driven from their homes in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria. The Islamic terrorist militia Boko Haram repeatedly carries out targeted attacks against Christians, but also against moderate Muslims.


Somalia is to North Korea in third place in the World Watch List 2019 of Open Doors . That means that Christians are persecuted particularly intensely here. The main forces of persecution are:

  • Islamic extremism: Al Shabaab in particular wants to establish an Islamic state of God and drive Christianity out of the country. The last bishop of Mogadishu to date was presumably murdered by Islamists in 1989 and the cathedral burned down. Open Doors writes: “It is generally considered unthinkable that a Somali is a Christian. In addition, Islamic religious leaders publicly claim that Somalia has no place for Christianity, Christians or churches. "
  • Exclusive tribal thinking: Somali society is dominated by tribal thinking. This imprint also determines the way in which the country is governed. The tribal system is also the breeding ground on which Islamic extremism thrives.
  • Systematic corruption: According to an Open Doors field researcher, Islamic extremism and systematic corruption are closely intertwined and difficult to tell apart.

In recent times, Christians of Muslim origin have often been killed on the spot when they were discovered, so the mere suspicion of having turned away from Islam was sufficient.


In Turkey , Christians and churches have long been exposed to a wide range of legal and other forms of discrimination . Christian churches do not have their own legal personality, and church building projects are subject to an extremely complicated and lengthy approval process. The churches are not allowed to train clergy. Renovation projects must be approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, the lack of spiritual offspring has slowly dried up the remains of Christian life in Turkey. The churches in Turkey are aging. Recently, targeted attacks on Catholic priests have increased.

The pogrom in Istanbul on the night of September 6th to 7th, 1955 put an extensive end to Christian-Greek life in Turkey. After excesses of violence by the Istanbul mob, in all probability supported by the Turkish government, over 100,000 Christian Greeks fled the country. From 110,000 Greeks in 1923, their number in Turkey has fallen to 2,500 today.

In 1997, the governor of Mardin issued a ban on the monasteries of Zafaran and Mor Gabriel , to accommodate foreign guests and to give religious and native language lessons. International protests ensured that at least the ban on accommodation was lifted. Language lessons in Aramaic are still prohibited.

At the beginning of February 2006, in the city of Trabzon on the Black Sea, the 68-year-old Catholic priest Andrea Santoro was shot by a 16-year-old Muslim high school student who wanted to take revenge for the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark. The priest had been threatened with violence in advance by residents of the city. In March 2006 there were two violent attacks on the 700 Catholic parish of Mersin . This resulted in devastation of the community rooms and a knife attack on the Capuchin Father Hanri Leylek. In the first half of 2006 two priests were injured by knife attacks and a third, Andrea Santoro, was shot dead in his church.

In January 2007 the most prominent mouthpiece of the Armenians, the journalist Hrant Dink , a Christian, was murdered. The murderer was celebrated in photos and a video after the arrest of some police officers in front of the Turkish flag. The assassin had boasted that he had killed an infidel who had insulted Turkey.

On April 18, 2007, five young Turkish men murdered the three Christians Necati Aydin, Ugur Yüksel and Tilmann Geske in the eastern Turkish city of Malatya by cutting their throats and letting them bleed to death. Necati Aydin and Ugur Yüksel were employees of the Christian publishing house Zirve who had converted from Islam to the Christian faith, and Tilmann Geske was a German Christian living in Turkey. As a motivation for their deed, the young men stated that they wanted to cleanse the city of Christian "missionaries".

In February 2008, Turkey's offensive against the PKK on Iraqi territory took action against Christian villages in which there were never any military installations. These are villages that were only repopulated by Christian refugees from all parts of Iraq after the fall of the Saddam regime . According to information from the Chaldean Bishop of Ahmadia and Hewler, the villages were bombed by several aircraft.

In December 2016, according to media reports, there was a Christmas ban at the İstanbul Lisesi high school .

Burkina Faso

In March 2019, the pastor of Djibo, Don Joël Yougbaré, was kidnapped. On May 12, 2019, an attack on the Catholic Church in Dablo in northern Burkina Faso killed six people. An attack on a Catholic Marian procession occurred on May 13, 2019. Four people were killed. According to Théophile Nare, the Bishop of Kaya, the situation is becoming increasingly frightening. It is about the elimination of Christian presence.


In India there have been over 1,000 violent attacks on Christians by militant Hindu fundamentalists since 1998 , in which churches have been destroyed, women religious have been raped and Bibles have been burned. On January 23, 1999, the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two underage sons were burned alive in their car in Manoharpur, Orissa.

“Someone who has cared for leprosy patients for years deserves thanks and recognition as a role model. To be killed this way instead is a monumental departure from the traditions of tolerance and humanity for which India is known. A crime that is one of the blackest acts in the world. "

- Kocheril Raman Narayanan : President of India 1997–2002

In the second half of 2008 “almost 60 Christians were killed, including seven clerics” in and around Orissa , and around 50,000 Christians were expelled.

The Evangelical Alliance India counts around 130 attacks per year in the churches belonging to it. There was an increasing trend in the 2000s. The states of Karnataka , Andhra Pradesh , Madhya Pradesh , Chhattisgarh and Orissa are most affected . In the last two months of 2014 alone, the Evangelical Fellowship of India counted 38 incidents.

See also


Web links

Commons : Christian martyrs  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Persecution of Christians  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

to current persecution of Christians:

on historical persecution of Christians:

Individual evidence

  1. Bundestag printed paper 16/3608 (application) of November 29, 2006 (pdf; 175 kB) ; Christianity most persecuted religion worldwide (December 22, 2008)
  2. Amnesty International: Belief is a Human Right ( Memento of March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on May 20, 2012.
  3. Open Doors: World Tracking Index 2017 (PDF; 1 MB). Estimation of 215 million persecuted on p. 2.
  4. Open Doors: Definition of Persecution ( Memento of October 2, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
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  9. Bundestag: minorities are not systematically persecuted
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