WASHINGTON (BP)–An organization that serves the persecuted church again has rated North Korea as the worst oppressor of Christians. It was the eighth consecutive year that Open Doors gave the Asian regime the top ranking, this time 25 points ahead of Iran, the No. 2-rated country.
Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of the world’s population live in countries with high restrictions on religion, according to a report by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life titled Global Restrictions on Religion.
Nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people reside in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion, the Pew Forum reported. Although only 64 of the 198 countries or territories studied have those levels of restrictions (32 percent), they contain the large majority of the world’s population.
The Pew Forum divided its study into two categories, one assessing government restrictions and the other social hostilities. The first encompasses actions, policies and laws by the government. The second consists of actions by social groups or private organizations and individuals.
In the government restrictions ratings, the countries that scored “very high,” or in the top 5 percent of the scores, were, in descending order, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Egypt, Burma, Maldives, Eritrea, Malaysia and Brunei.
The countries that ranked “very high” in social hostilities were, in descending order, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Somalia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.
In rankings by region, the Middle East-North Africa had the highest scores in both government restrictions on and social hostilities toward religion, while the Americas were the least restrictive in both indexes.
Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and India were the most restrictive among the world’s 25 most populous countries when both categories are considered. Meanwhile, the least restrictive of the 25 most populous countries were Brazil, Japan, the United States, Italy, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
North Korea was not included in the report because of a lack of access to the information required, according to the Pew Forum. Pew acknowledged that the North Korean regime is reportedly “among the most repressive” in the world. It also is likely the most closed society in the world to outsiders.
North Korea’s No. 1 ranking on the Open Doors list of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians was no surprise, the organization’s president said.
“There is no other country in the world where Christians are persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner,” Carl Moeller said in a Jan. 6 news release from Open Doors. “Three generations of a family are often thrown into prison when one member is incarcerated.”
The regime of dictator Kim Jong-Il has an estimated 200,000 political prisoners, including 40,000 to 60,000 Christians, according to Open Doors.
A longtime North Korean observer, who was not identified by Open Doors for safety reasons, said, “Christians are the target of fierce government action, and once caught, are not regarded as human. Last year we had evidence that some were used as guinea pigs to test chemical and biological weapons.”
Despite the repression, “the number of Christians in North Korea has grown in the last 10 years,” Moeller said.
According to Open Doors, the 10 countries where persecution of Christians is worst, with scores in parentheses, are North Korea (90.5), Iran (65.5), Saudi Arabia (63.5), Somalia (62.5), Maldives (62.0), Afghanistan (61.5), Yemen (60.5), Mauritania (59.5), Laos (56.0) and Uzbekistan (56.0).
North Korea and Laos have communist governments, while the other eight countries are Islamic states.
The U.S. State Department maintains a list of “countries of particular concern,” a designation reserved for the world’s most severe violators of religious freedom. The eight countries now on that list are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.