Last week, Open Doors released the annual World Watch List (WWL) for 2012, which revealed that North Korea has consecutively held the number one spot for the past decade.
"It’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years in a row, but North Korea is the worst place on earth to be a Christian,” said Open Doors USA president/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller.
In communist North Korea the vast majority of the population holds to a quasi-religion centered around its founder, Kim Il-Sung. Anyone in North Korea who expresses belief in “another god” is automatically persecuted. Recent reports indicate that an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Christians in the country remain underground. It is difficult to determine an exact number, because many Christians remain in hiding. It is also believed that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians suffer daily in horrific prison camps.
Moeller said that one of the troubling dimensions with the change-over of leadership in North Korea is that Kim Jong Un, who is taking over for his father and grandfather, has a made a very pointed effort of showing himself to be a dictator who is following in the footsteps of his grandfather – a horrible persecutor of Christians.
“How the death of Kim Jong Il last month and the coming to power of his son Kim Jong Un will affect the status of Christians in North Korea is hard to determine at this early stage,” Moeller said. “Certainly the situation for believers remains perilous. Please pray with me that the Lord will open up North Korea and there will be religious freedom to worship the one true God, not the gods of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il-Sung.”
Following North Korea in the Top 10 are Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iran, Maldives, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan. Studies show that nine of the Top 10 are Islamic-majority countries. Thirty-two out of the Top 50 countries are Islamic, while North Korea remains a communist country.
The World Watch List ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith. It is compiled from Open Doors’ indigenous contacts, field workers and persecuted believers based on answers to questions covering various aspects of religious freedom.
This year, Pakistan is the sole new member on the Top 10 list. Last year it came in at No. 11. Laos was the only country to drop out of the Top 10 list; dropping from No. 10 in 2011 to 12 this year.
In addition to the Top 10 countries on the list, there were several significant moves this year. Sudan moved 19 spots to No. 16 – the biggest leap of any country from 2011. Nigeria jumped 10 spots to No. 13. Egypt, racked by violent protests and upheaval during the Arab Spring, rose four positions to No. 15. Increased Islamic extremism triggered the upward movement of Sudan, Nigeria and Egypt.
New countries on the Top 50 list include Kazakhstan at No. 45 and Colombia at 47. Countries dropping off the list in 2012 include Russia, Tanzania and Sri Lanka.
Reflecting further on the WWL numbers, China was among the countries with lower rankings, going from No. 16 in 2011 to 21 this year. Among the Arab Spring countries on the list, Egypt ranked the highest at No. 15 compared to 19 in 2011. Iran dropped to No. 5 this year from its previous No. 2 position in 2011.
“With Iran, for example moving from No. 2 to No. 5, that does not mean that persecution and the conditions for Christians improved dramatically in Iran,” Moeller said. “What typically happens, and what happened in this case is that the conditions for Christians in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia all decreased dramatically and the incidents of persecution against Christians in those places rose, significantly. So, they moved ahead of Iran, but that doesn’t mean that Iran improved, or that the situation in a particular country becomes better.”
To highlight one example, there have been over 200 Christian pastors in Iran who have been arrested.
“In fact, the situation remained pretty much the same in Iran. We know that there are death threats against some of the pastors, who have been arrested,” Moeller said. “Major government figures have identified Christianity as a major threat to their society.”
According Open Doors, there is an alarming trend in their findings worldwide. Almost every country on the list is experiencing a dramatic increase in the persecution of Christians and its severity. An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide are actively being persecuted. These individuals suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Persecution can be fueled by a number of different factors – political, social and religious belief or freedom, just to name a few.
“Globally speaking, similar to North Korea, the number of persecuted Christians is also quite difficult to get a handle on, because it largely depends on how we define persecution,” Moeller said. “In one sense, every Christian is persecuted, according to the Bible, if they desire to live a Godly life in Jesus. That includes Christians here in America, who may be persecuted by family members, or in other situations where they are discriminated against.”
One thing believers in the United States and abroad can do to act on behalf of those who are being persecuted is to pray. Another way to get involved is to support the work of Open Doors through a financial contribution.
“We have one goal at Open Doors and that is to serve persecuted Christians, worldwide. Our motto and methodology is very simple. To go to those Christians, to stand with them and to ask one question, “What do you need?” Then, we go get it for them. Sometimes, that is just the presence and encouragement of Christians to let them know that they are not alone in their situation,” Moeller expressed.
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. For more about Open Doors and a complete World Watch List 2012, visit http://www.opendoorsusa.org.
Publication date: January 10, 2012