Canadian pro-life activists who have been jailed, sued, slandered, attacked and harassed can take some solace in the fact that they are not alone.

The persecution of Christians this century is perhaps worse than it has ever been and stands as probably the world’s largest, current human rights issue, according to Paul Marshall, academic dean of the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto.

This persecution “is being all but ignored in the secular world and is little better known in the church world,” he says. “About 159,000 Christians a year are martyred for their faith…These are not rumours or crazy stories. They are documented.”

Marshall spoke in Toronto recently regarding his latest book Their Blood Cries Out, which examines persecution of Christians in 65 countries based on reliable documentation. He began his studies into the issue five years ago, when he was asked to become an advisor on religious freedom and persecution for the World Evangelical Fellowship.

Marshall said 200 million Christians today live under intense persecution, in which their lives are threatened for reasons of faith. Another 400 million suffer discrimination or are treated as second-class citizens.

Part of the reason for these developments is that the Christian church is undergoing the largest expansion in its history and parts of other faiths see that as a threat. “What is happening is a reaction to the growth of the church and the Gospel,” he said.

Marshall identified three key reasons for this state of affairs.

Contrary to belief of many, communism has not disappeared. It continues to dominate China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea and Cuba.

As well, Islam continues to grow and increase its persecution of Christians.

And authoritarian governments in Hindu and Buddhist countries (most notably India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Burma), are inflicting day-to-day harassment of Christians.

Some of persecution stems from the mistaken perception that Christianity is primarily a white, Western phenomenon.

“We tend to think that Christianity is European, but from its beginnings at Pentecost, the church went in all directions,” Marshall said.

He later outlined a list of attacks on Christians the world over.