If you are a Christian, the worst place to live in the world is North Korea, according to Open Doors’ 2008 World Watch List.
The annual country persecution list ranked North Korea in the No 1 spot for the sixth year in a row. There were more arrests of Christians in the country in 2007 than in 2006, according to Open Doors.
In North Korea, considered by many the world's most repressive regime, citizens are strictly banned from worshipping any other gods beside those enforced in the state religion – a personality cult revolving around current dictator Kim Jong Il, and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung.
Moreover, Christianity is considered a serious threat to the regime’s power and there are many reports of Christians being publicly executed, tortured or imprisoned indefinitely simply because of their faith.
It is estimated that there are up to 400,000 to 500,000 believers secretly practising their faith in North Korea. At least a quarter of the Christians are imprisoned for their faith in political prison camps, from which people rarely get out alive, according to an Open Doors local source.
“It is certainly not a shock that North Korea is No 1 on the shame list for the sixth year in a row,” said Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA. “There is no other country in the world where Christians are being persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner.”
In second place behind North Korea is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia where fundamentalist Wahabbi Islam dominates society and oppresses believers. Under the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, apostasy (conversion to another religion) is punishable by death if the accused does not recant.
Following close behind in third is Middle East neighbour Iran. Although Christians are officially recognised as a religious minority, believers regularly face discrimination and persecution.
Islam is the predominant religion in six of the top 10 countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Maldives, Afghanistan, Yemen and Uzbekistan.
This year, several countries moved up in the list including Bhutan (No 5, up from No 7), but mainly due to Somalia and Yemen’s decrease in persecution.
Afghanistan also rose from No 10 to No 7 due to the South Korean Christian hostage drama last summer as well as other events that contributed to its worsening persecution status.
Two new countries were added to the 2008 list: Uzbekistan at No 9, up from No 11, and China at No 10, up from No 12 last year.
Three of the top 10 countries – North Korea, Laos and China – have communist governments. Bhutan is the only Buddhist country on the list.
Improvements in human rights were noted in Somalia (from No 4 to 12), Vietnam (from No 8 to 17), Burma (from No 19 to 25), Ethiopia (from No 37 to 43) and Colombia (from No 43 to 50).
The World Watch List ranks countries based on the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith. The list is compiled based on answers to 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom from Open Doors’ indigenous contacts, field workers and persecuted believers.
Open Doors encourages Christians to join its prayer campaign for North Korea and participate in North Korea Freedom Week, April 27 - May 3.
2008 World Watch List Top Ten
1. North Korea
2. Saudi Arabia