North Korea tops Open Doors World Watch list

By March 2, 2006

USA (OD/MNN) — For the fourth straight year, the isolated communist nation of North Korea remains atop the 2006 Open Doors ‘World Watch List’ of 50 countries where Christians are persecuted the most.

The annual list ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith in Jesus Christ, says Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller. “You might call it the hall of shame. Over 230-million Christians are suffering repression, restriction even torture, imprisonment and death and we want the world to know, watch and pray that these countries will change their policies around the world.”

The list is based on evaluations and testimonies obtained by Open Doors’ indigenous contacts, field workers and members of the Persecuted Church.

It is believed that tens of thousands of Christians are currently suffering in North Korean prison camps where they face cruel abuses, according to the 2006 World Watch List report. Some think the hermit regime has detained more political and religious prisoners than any other country in the world. On occasion, North Koreans become Christians after crossing the border with China and entering into contact with local Christians. But many are exposed as believers when they return to North Korea and are targeted to be caught. Many face torture and death. Though no exact figures can be given, Open Doors’ staff estimates that hundreds of Christians were killed by the regime in 2005.

“North Korea is the most repressive nation in the world. It certainly deserves its No. 1 ranking on the 2006 World Watch List,” says Moeller. “Many hundreds of thousands of Christians are exposed to every level of torture. If you are caught leading a Bible study or perhaps evangelizing others, not only you can be thrown into a labor camp, but up to three generations of your family.”

And so, Moeller says, “Due to the continuing severity of persecution, Open Doors USA has launched a Prayer Campaign for North Korea. Go to our website (www.opendoorsusa.org) to sign up to pray for 10 minutes a week. Let’s lift up the needs of our fellow believers in North Korea and in all the countries on the World Watch List.”

As a member of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, Open Doors USA is partnering with NKFC during the North Korea Freedom Week April 24-30, 2006.

Saudi Arabia holds the second spot on the list for the fourth year in a row. Rounding out the top 10 are Iran, Somalia, Maldives, Bhutan, Yemen, Vietnam, Laos and China. In addition to North Korea, countries with communist governments include Vietnam, Laos and China. Islamic-dominated countries are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, Maldives and Yemen. Buddhism is the state religion of Bhutan.

Religious freedom does not exist in Saudi Arabia where citizens are only allowed to adhere to one religion — Islam. No legal protection is provided for freedom of religion; neither does this protection exist in practice. The legal system is based on Islamic law (Shariah). Apostasy — conversion to another religion — is punishable by death. Open Doors recorded more than 70 expatriate Christians who were arrested in 2005 during worship in private homes in what has been called Saudi Arabia’s largest crackdown on Christians in a decade. Most of the arrested Christians were released over a period of time.

In Iran, where the deterioration of religious freedom for Christians started with the victory of conservative parties at the beginning of 2004, a new wave of persecution of Christians followed the election of a hard-line conservative president in June 2005, bringing Iran to the No. 3 position on the World Watch List. Last year Iran ranked No. 5. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hailed his election triumph as a new Islamic revolution that could spread throughout the world and pledged to restore an “Islamic government” in Iran, implying that the previous administrations were not sufficiently Islamic. Since 2005’s election, many Christians have not only been rounded up for harassment, but many have been arrested and beaten. One house church pastor was killed last November.

The only new country on the 2006 World Watch List is No. 8 Yemen. Last year the country ranked No. 11. During the past year, several Christian converts were beaten and arrested for their faith in Yemen. Afghanistan dropped out of the top 10, going from No. 10 to No. 11.

The conditions for Christians deteriorated in 2005 in such countries as Uzbekistan (from No. 15 to No. 12) as government measures following the suppression of the popular uprising in Andijan led to restrictions in the extent of religious freedom for Christians. Violence against Christians in India (No. 34 to No 26) seems to be on the rise. Christians are coming under increased pressure — in the form of physical attacks, killings, depiction in the media, threats, etc. — because of accusations of alleged outreach activities. Intolerance and atrocities against minorities were on the increase in Bangladesh (No. 46 to No. 39).

The situation of Christians improved to different extents in Vietnam (No. 3 to No. 7), Laos (No. 4 to No. 9), Afghanistan, Sudan (No. 19 to No. 27), northern Nigeria (No. 25 to No. 28), Colombia (No. 36 to No. 44) and southern Mexico (No. 31 to No. 48).

Church leaders in Vietnam and Laos indicated that the situation of Christians improved somewhat in 2005. Christians were allowed to build and renovate church buildings and conduct training. In Laos, Christian leaders in the south were able to undertake many church activities without or with only little government interference.

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