Oppression and discrimination against Christians has increased during Covid, says Release International, which has launched an appeal to help Christians suffering during the pandemic.

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Lockdown means many poorer Christians no longer have enough money for food or rent, let alone facemasks or hand sanitiser.

'The government is not able to support Christians in the villages, slums or brick kilns.'

In several countries, lockdown has led to an increase in persecution.

In Upper Egypt, where Christians come under pressure and discrimination for their faith, some organisations are allegedly refusing food and support to Christian families. Release partners report: 'The authorities are helping Muslims but not Christians. And churches that try to help are being closed by police order.'

In China, Release partners say the government is using the pandemic to step up its crackdown against Christians. 'They have accelerated campaigns such as the forced demolition of crosses against even government-sanctioned churches.

'Pastors have been rounded up for sharing the gospel and distributing facemasks on the street.'

The authorities have 'totally prohibited' online church services and prayer meetings: 'nothing constituting a religious service is allowed.'

A Christian from Shandong who called for nine days of prayer and fasting for victims of the virus was arrested after seven days, accused of organising an illegal online prayer service.

In Nigeria, the lockdown deepened the insecurity facing many Christian villagers, who face attacks by Fulani militia. Release partners report: 'Militants used the pandemic as an opportunity to increase attacks on Christians and other non-Muslims.'

Says Paul Robinson of Release International: 'Our partners have verified many cases of Covid19-related persecution and discrimination. And for every example we are aware of, there will be many, many more.

'For many struggling Christians Covid has made things harder. Many have been disowned by their families because of their faith. Right now, it's up to us in the family of faith to give them our support. You can find out more at www.releaseinternational.org/covid  CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.