Kenya and Tanzania are potential hotspots for persecution against Christians as jihadists seek to extend their reach into East Africa, a report from Release International has warned.
The 2015 Hotspot report identifies the worst placed Christians during 2014 and potential problem countries in the year to come.
Although Iraq was one of the worst places during 2014, with the Islamic State seizing control of swathes of the country, Paul Robinson, Release’s chief executive, warned that Islamist groups were gaining ground across Africa.
He said, ‘There is evidence to suggest they will become a growing force for instability in East Africa in 2015. The greatest risk to freedom of faith in the New Year comes from Islamic groups determined to establish their brutal version of Sharia law, whatever the cost to human life’.
Last November, militants ambushed a bus in northern Kenya. They separated out the Muslims and executed up to 28 Christians. Gunmen have also killed scores in attacks on predominantly Christian towns in Kenya and on a church near Mombasa.
Those identifying themselves as Christians are in the majority in Kenya, and make up almost a third of the population of neighbouring Tanzania.
Other high persecution countries include North Korea, with its authoritarian, Communist government, as well as India, where there is a growing and violent nationalist movement.
Last November, a group of eight Christians meeting in a church in the village of Kotla, in Madhya Pradesh, were attacked by radical Hindu, Bajrang Dal activists.
According to a report from Barnabas Fund, the activists stripped the Christians and beat them with fists and belts. They then presented them to the police, whereupon the Christians were arrested and refused bail at the local magistrate court.
The group of Christians had gathered in the church to prepare for a meeting later that day. The Hindu radicals told police that the Christians were planning forced conversions.
In August 2013, the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act was toughened and has often been used to make false accusations of forced conversion.
Christians celebrating the birth of Christ and the New Year suffered extreme persecution, resulting in more than 30 deaths and imprisonment of church leaders.
In Nigeria, attacks over this period saw one person beheaded and at least 28 Christians dead, after Fulani militants torched houses and killed 15 people in Ambe-Madaki village, Kaduna state.
Ten others were killed in Tattaura, while, in Plateau state, Fulani gunmen killed three Christians in Kantoma village and beheaded one villager, creating a wave of panic.
According to Release International, its partners in Nigeria received distress calls from villagers. One said that unless help came, they could be exterminated completely.
Later, in Gombe city, a suicide bomber was prevented from riding a motorbike into a New Year’s Day church service. The bomber detonated his suicide belt, wounding eight, after being challenged by members of the Boys’ Brigade, who were helping police keep the church secure, the Morning Star News has reported.
Paul Robinson, of Release, said, ‘Christians in northern Nigeria face attack on two fronts, by Fulani militants who want their land, and Boko Haram who want an Islamic state. We are also concerned that Boko Haram could step up attacks in the run-up to the Nigerian elections this February’.