North Korea holds the number one spot again this year on Open Doors 2013 World Watch List. For the 11th straight year, Communist-ruled North Korea is still the worst place on earth to be a Christian.
Following North Korea in the Top 10 are Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea. Apart from North Korea, extreme Islam wages the greatest threat for Christians in eight of the Top 10 countries. Eritrea is approximately half Muslim and half Christian with a president who embraces Marxism.
“We should never forget, persecution is always personal,” said Open Doors’ chief strategy officer Ron Boyd-MacMillan. “We can all find ‘higher’ reasons for persecution, such as ideological or religious motivation, but in practice it is very important to remember that a lot of persecution is motivated by personal animosity or jealousy. Or as someone once said, ‘Before there is persecution, there is a persecutor.’”
Analysts who try to explain religious persecution in North Korea point to the Communist oppression as the primary source. But a more far-reaching “persecution engine” is what Open Doors has dubbed “dictatorial paranoia.” North Korea’s first leader Kim Il-Sung, his son Kim Jong-Il and grandson Kim Jong-Un seem to have a personal grudge against Christians. It is difficult to find the roots of the grievances against followers of Christ, since it is widely believed that Kim Il-Sung’s grandparents, who raised him, were Christians.
In North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un, conditions remain dangerous and there is no religious freedom to worship God. Simply for having a Bible, or prayer time with family, a Christian can be executed, or forced into a labor camp, along with three generations of his or her family. Reports revealed that as conditions worsen, one labor camp alone could hold up to 6,000 Christians.
Paul Estabrooks, Open Doors senior communications specialist, said it is estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians suffer in these horrific prison camps, because of their Christianity. Findings also showed that the number of defectors to China greatly decreased in 2012 and half of those who try to defect do not make it.
“Can you believe that North Korea considers America as their number one enemy? I was there two years ago with a prayer team and we were constantly impressed by this. You hear this, but it is hard to believe that they really think that the United States wants to eliminate them. Therefore, they identify Christianity as the religion of America. It becomes a non-entity for their country and they are opposed to anything ‘Christian,’” Estabrooks said.
The WWL ranks countries by the intensity of persecution that Christians face for demonstrating their faith. It brings attention to the world’s Top 50 persecutors. Research is gathered from Open Doors’ persecution analysts, researchers and specialists, from its field operations and independent experts inside the countries.
More than ever before, this year’s rankings offer insight on the overall spectrum of the persecution of Christians in all spheres of life – private, family, community, national and church. The freedom to come together and the degree in which Christians are exposed to acts of violence are also included in the monitoring. This results in a balanced scoring, which takes into account both the impact of violent incidents and less visible, structural developments threatening the position of Christians.
According to Open Doors, who has been compiling the data for more than two decades, the persecution of Christians in Africa has increased tremendously in 2012. Officials cited that the surge is due to the rising influence of Islam.
“A surprise on the Top 10 this year is the country of Mali," Estabrooks said. "Mali, in West Africa, and one of the poorest countries in the world has been quiet. Until this past year, it has been open to missionary work, even in the North, which was dominantly Muslim.”
In regard to the increased ranking of African countries among the top 50, Mali is a newcomer on the list and holds the No. 7 position. Tanzania (No. 24), Kenya (No. 40), Uganda (47) and Niger (No. 50) also moved onto the WWL. The WWL shows that Ethiopia is one of the strongest risers (from No. 38 to No. 15). Additionally, the African country of Eritrea made the Top 10 for the first time at No. 10. Libya also climbed significantly, going from No. 26 to No. 17.
“We do not necessarily distinguish one overall plan from one source in the whole of Africa. However, we do see that radical Islamic groups are patiently waiting for the right time to show their power,” said Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra in a press release. “Apart from the pattern of violent attacks, we see that radical Muslims are infiltrating into politics, business and the judicial power, such as introducing Sharia family courts. On a number of occasions, Muslims were ready to step into a power vacuum. Take Mali, for example, where Touareg rebels and Muslim fundamentalists gained power in April 2012.”
Open Doors’ research has indicated that in cities such as Gao and Timbuktu, Christians had to flee with only the clothes on their backs. Many churches and homes of Christians were burned. The extremists in Timbuktu went house to house to search for Christians to kill. In addition, Mali has experienced one of the worst droughts and widespread famines in 20 years.
Another example is the estimated 330 Christian refugee families living in Bamako. A crisis committee has been set up by the National Fellowship of Evangelical Churches and Missions to help refugees with food, shelter and medical care as well as long-term educational and vocational support.
Open Doors coworkers took four trips to Mali last year for assessment and to help refugees with housing, food and medical bills.
“We have nine children. If not for this kind of support [from Open Doors], how would we care for our children? What you gave us is immeasurable because we are able to feed the children. Thank you very much,” said Bamako refugee Zeinabou Walatalhamir.
In other moves on the WWL, China is the only country where Open Doors experts identified a significant improvement. Five years ago, the country was ranked in the Top 10, but now it has dropped from No. 21 to No. 37. Other countries that dropped on the list, like Iran and Uzbekistan, are still very hostile toward Christians.
Overall, persecution of Christians worldwide continues to increase. It is estimated that 100 million Christians are actively being persecuted. The level of persecution may vary from one country to another, but those persecuted suffer from interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ. Millions more face discrimination and alienation. Persecution can be fueled by a number of different factors, ranging from political, social and religious belief or freedom, among others. Christians can help by offering prayer for those persecuted and contributing financial support to Open Doors.
This year’s WWL was unveiled during a Tuesday, Jan. 8, press conference at the National Press Club, First Amendment Lounge in Washington, D.C. For a complete World Watch List 2013, visit http://www.worldwatchlist.us.
Publication date: January 14, 2013