Watch List Shows One Constant: Increasing Persecution

Watch List Shows One Constant: Increasing Persecution

February 16, 2009

For the seventh year in a row, North Korea ranked number one on Open Doors annual World Watch List for 2009. Following North Korea in the top ten spots are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen, Laos, Eritrea and Uzbekistan, respectively.

The World Watch List ranks countries by the intensity of persecution that Christians face for demonstrating their faith. It brings attention to the world’s top 50 persecutors.

Dr. Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA said the World Watch List is compiled as a result of several needs.

“[T]here is a need for doing two things. One is bringing awareness to the issue of persecution in countries that many people haven’t even heard of,” said Moeller. “And number two, to help focus our work around the world, and to try and identify those places that things are really happening so that we can continue to strategize and work on that level.”

The Watch List combines well-documented incidents of persecution in each country with an in-depth questionnaire given to Open Doors’ coworkers on the ground.

Open Doors then scores the questions and weights the severity of the persecution get the ranking numbers.

“Having the World Watch List is a wonderful beginning point for people to understand that persecution is increasing,” Moeller said.

“In my five years with the organization, and in the fifty-four years that it has been working on behalf of persecuted Christians, there is one consistent factor—that is persecution is increasing, worldwide.”

Moeller also said that in almost every country that is listed, there is a huge revival going on in the church.

“So, this unique interaction between persecution and revival continues today. We see it in the book of Acts, and throughout church history. Wherever the church grows dramatically, resistance from the enemy comes out and persecution takes place, especially in those places where Christianity is not a dominant religion. It’s a powerless religion, so it is always acted upon by the powerful.”

This year’s number one, North Korea is no stranger to the World Watch List, topping the list at number one for seven years in a row.

Prior to that, Saudi Arabia held the number one position. The Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia now holds second place, sharing the same amount of points with another country that is also ruled by Sharia law, Iran. Islam is also the official religion in Afghanistan, Somalia and the Maldives; the countries who are in the fourth, fifth and sixth positions.

Afghanistan rose from seventh to fourth place. According to the Open Doors World Watch List, the country moved up on the list as a result of the increased pressure from the Taliban movement during 2008.

In seventh place is Yemen, whose position changed from six to seven, but there was no major change in the lack of religious freedom for Christians in Yemen in 2008. There was also no real change to the status of religious freedom in Laos; the country is still number eight on the list.

Two new countries entered the top ten—Somalia and Eritrea. For Eritrea, the total of overall points didn’t change compared to last year, but other countries dropping off of the top ten list made it go up. In Somalia the number of incidents against Christians increased dramatically in 2008, explaining its rise from twelve to five. 

Islam is the majority religion in seven of the top ten 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 ten highest countries on the list.

Focusing on the number one of the top ten, daily life for Christians in North Korea remains extremely harsh.

The border between China and North Korea is almost closed; everything and everyone going in and out of North Korea are monitored closely. Executions are held in secret. The number of people sentenced to a labor camp or in prison has increased compared to last year. North Korea is closing its doors and Christians are persecuted constantly. Genuine religious freedom doesn’t exist at all; and no one is allowed to be a Christian in North Korea. The constitution is firmly based on Juche ideology.

Moeller, who took a recent trip to North Korea said, “the number one thing Christians can do is to pray. “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.”

Overall, 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).

There was still a lot of pressure on Christians in China in 2008. The government shut down house churches, arrested and physically harmed Christians. On the other hand, the situation in 2008 for Christians was better than previous years. There were no reports of Christians being kidnapped or murdered because of their faith, which happened in 2007.

China and Bhutan were countries that dropped out of the top ten. According to Open Doors, persecution in Bhutan mainly comes from the family, the community, and the monks who yield a strong influence on the society. Cases of atrocities (such as beatings) decreased in number. The year 2008 brought major changes to Bhutan, including  others a new constitution, which guarantees more religious liberty was implemented.

In other changes for the better, the total number of points decreased for Bhutan, China, Turkmenistan, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Sudan (North), Zanzibar Islands, Cuba, Turkey, and Columbia.

In another 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.

For the complete World Watch List 2009, visit

Ginny McCabe is an author, feature and entertainment writer from Cincinnati, OH. You may email her at [email protected], or visit