USA (MNN) — The oppressive, isolated country of North Korea under the leadership of dictator Kim Jong Il retains its grip as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world.
According to the Open Doors 2008 World Watch List released today, North Korea is ranked No. 1 for the seventh year in a row. Christians are persecuted constantly under the communist government, which denies human rights to its citizens.
The Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia is No. 2 and Iran is No. 3. Both countries are ruled by sharia law.
Afghanistan, Somalia and the Maldives take the fourth, fifth and sixth positions, respectively. Afghanistan moved up three spots on the list this year as a result of increased pressure from the Taliban movement during 2008. Yemen is No. 7, Laos No. 8, Eritrea No. 9 and Uzbekistan No. 10.
Somalia and Eritrea are new countries to the top 10 list. In Somalia, the number of incidents against Christians increased dramatically in 2008, explaining its rise to No. 5 from No. 12 in 2007. For Eritrea, there was no major change in the lack of religious freedom for Christians. Around 3,000 Christians are being held in Eritrean prisons.
China and Bhutan dropped out of the top 10 with China now No. 12 and Bhutan No. 11. Last year China was No. 10 and Bhutan No. 5.
Islam is the majority religion in seven of the top 10 countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen and Uzbekistan. Two countries have communist governments: North Korea and Laos. Eritrea is the only dictatorial country in the 10 highest countries on the list.
The World Watch List is compiled from a specially-designed questionnaire of 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom. A point value is assigned depending on how each question is answered. The total number of points per country determines its position on the World Watch List of countries that are the worst persecutors of Christians.
"It is certainly not a shock that North Korea is No. 1 on the list of countries where Christians face the worst persecution," says Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA. "There is no other country in the world where Christians are persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner.
"I encourage you to join our on-going prayer campaign for North Korea and to plug in to the many opportunities Open Doors offers to advocate for the oppressed believers there during North Korea Freedom Week April 25-May 2."
The status of religious freedom for Christians deteriorated in 2008 in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan (No. 13), Iraq (No. 16), Mauritania (No. 18), Algeria (No. 19), India (No. 22), Northern Nigeria (26), Indonesia (No. 41), Bangladesh (No. 43) and Kazakhstan (No. 50 and new on the top 50 list).
Persecution continues unabated in Saudi Arabia. Five months after the daughter of a member of Saudi Arabia's religious police was killed for writing online about her faith in Christ, Saudi authorities reportedly arrested a 28-year-old Christian man for describing his conversion and criticizing the kingdom's judiciary on his Website, according to Compass Direct News. Saudi police arrested Hamoud Bin Saleh on Jan. 13 "because of his opinions and his testimony that he had converted from Islam to Christianity," according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
In Iran, a major crackdown on house churches took place, and a large number of Christians were arrested, marking 2008 as one of the toughest years regarding Christian persecution since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
In Afghanistan, a Western Christian aid worker was killed because, according to the Taliban, she was spreading Christianity in Afghanistan which is prohibited by law in the country. In Somalia, Open Doors received reports of at least 10 Christians killed for their faith in 2008 and several others kidnapped and raped. Pressure on the Christian minority in Pakistan continued unabated.
Iraq's Christian minority faced a year full of violence in 2008. Churches were attacked or damaged by bombs, Christians received death threats and several Christians were murdered, abused and/or kidnapped.
For years, India has ranked No. 30 on Open Doors' persecution index. This year it moved to No. 22 primarily because in the third quarter of 2008, there was the worst outbreak of religious violence on record for Christians in India, especially in the state of Orissa. The number of incidents regarding arrests, physical harassment, abductions and church attacks remained high all over India.
"The escalation of violence against Christians in India in 2008 is very troubling," says Moeller. "Please pray for believers there."
In a major positive development, fewer believers were harassed in Vietnam this year. As a result it fell to No. 23. Last year it was ranked No. 17 and in 2006 it was No. 8. Open Doors recorded fewer reports of persecution of Christians in Colombia this year. As a result, this long-time World Watch List country fell off the list.
Moeller says this is about more than making a list. "We're actually formulating agendas for serving those persecuted Christians. We're actually going into those countries in clandestine ways and providing relief and support so that they might remain a light in a very dark place."
Their desire is to support the needs of the national church, says Moeller. "Whatever they need, we go and get for them. In most cases, it's to be remembered in prayer. Also, they usually ask for a copy of God's Word of their very own. Most of these countries either outlaw the Bible or make it very difficult to get, and it's certainly impossible to distribute widely."
An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation.
Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most-difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
For a complete World Watch List of the top 50 persecutors and additional information, go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.