SANTA ANA, Calif. (BP)–For the first time, North Korea has replaced Saudi Arabia as the country where Christians are most severely persecuted, according to Open Doors’ “World Watch List” released in August.
The World Watch List, released twice each year, ranks countries according to the level of persecution Christians face for following Jesus Christ, based on evaluations and testimonies obtained by Open Doors indigenous contacts, field workers and members of persecuted churches.
For years, Saudi Arabia had held the top spot on the list. The desert kingdom, which sees itself as the guardian of Islam and its sacred cities of Mecca and Medina, requires all its citizens to be Muslims. A Saudi who converts to another religion faces the death penalty for apostasy.
But growing reports of severe oppression in North Korea have confirmed what many observers have believed for years, that the communist dictatorship of Kim Jong Il is intent on eradicating all belief systems other than the worship of Kim himself and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung. Both father and son have an ongoing record of attempting to purge the land of Christians.
Nevertheless, the church has survived in North Korea. Christian refugees escaping North Korea’s devastating famine have told of small house churches in country. They rarely number more than 10 individuals, often including only family members for security precautions. One refugee told of how a house church of 20-30 people simply disappeared in 2000.
“Imagine how nearly impossible it is for Christians to survive and the Christian faith to grow in North Korea as it takes over first place in the hall of shame of countries repressing the free expression of Christianity,” said Terry Madison, president/CEO of Open Doors USA. “And yet, despite its cruel punishment and death to believers, indications are that the church in North Korea continues to grow despite the best efforts of the government.”
Until this year, Madison noted, “For as many years as Open Doors has published its World Watch List, Saudi Arabia has had the dubious label of being ranked as the most difficult country in the world in which to be a Christian.” Among the abuses there: Arrests by the religious police, torture, imprisonment, deportation for foreign workers and death for nationals who convert to Christianity.
Ranked third on the list is the Southeast Asian nation of Laos, where government authorities accuse Christians of causing religious division. Officials make every effort to tightly control Christian activities, including holding indoctrination classes to re-educate believers.
Vietnam, Turkmenistan, Maldives, Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia round out the top 10, listed respectively in order of their ranking. Six of the top 10 countries are governed by Islamic regimes. One — Bhutan — is predominately Buddhist and three — Laos, Vietnam and Turkmenistan — are communist-ruled.
Included on the list, from Nos. 11-25, are Iran, China, Sudan (government controlled areas), Myanmar (Burma), Egypt, Azerbaijan, Nigeria (north), Yemen, Comoros, Colombia, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Brunei and Morocco. China is home to possibly the world’s largest number of Christians, numbering between 60-90 million with an estimated 10,000-25,000 converts a day.
Rounding out the list are Nos. 26-50: Tunisia, Iraq, Russian Federation (the Muslim republics of Chechnya, Kabardino, Balkarya and Dagestan), Libya, Tajikistan, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Turkey, Mexico (state of Chiapas), United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Kurdistan, Oman, Mauritania, Algeria, Malaysia, Syria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Kenya (northeast) and Belarus.
The Brother Andrew-founded Open Doors will celebrate 50 years of ministry in 2005. Based in Santa Ana, Calif., the ministry delivers Bibles and other study materials, provides literacy training, pastoral training and advocacy on behalf of those who are persecuted for their faith in Christ.