The isolated communist nation of North Korea remains atop the Open Doors “World Watch List” of countries where Christians are persecuted. “North Korea is the most repressed and isolated nation in the world,” said Dr. Carl Moeller, President of Open Doors USA. The World Watch List is based on evaluations and testimonies obtained by Open Doors’ indigenous contacts, field workers and from members of the Persecuted Church.
The annual list ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith. “It breaks my heart to hear some of the atrocities against our brothers and sisters there. Tens of thousands of Christians are among 200,000 prisoners held in politico-labor camps. Yet we hear reports of how the church in North Korea continues to grow. Let’s continue to lift up the needs of our fellow believers in North Korea and in all the countries on the list,” Dr. Moeller added.
For years, very little information about the church emerged from Kim Il Sung’s harsh North Korean regime, which is now ruled by his son, Kim Jong Il. In recent years, however, there has been a relative “flood” of information coming from North Korean refugees fleeing to China. They report that the church has not only survived, it has grown. To visibly practice the Christian faith in North Korea today can still result in imprisonment and death. North Korea is ranked atop the World Watch List for the third straight year.
Saudi Arabia retains the second spot on the list, followed by Laos, the Central Highlands of Vietnam and Iran. Other countries listed in the WWL’s Top 10 include: Turkmenistan, Maldives, Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma) and China. Myanmar and China are newcomers to the Top 10; Myanmar was ranked 13th last year and China 11th. #12 Pakistan (sixth last year) and #11 Somalia (ninth last year) fell out of the Top 10.
The desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the guardian of Islam, requires all its citizens to be Muslims. For a Saudi to convert to another religion, the consequences can be severe. Even foreign Christian guest workers have been imprisoned and deported for quietly practicing their faith, despite government assurances that foreigners can worship privately.
The Lao government continues to put pressure upon Christians in their country. Many were arrested and later released, while several churches were closed in 2003.
Iran climbed five places compared to the 2003 list, rising from No. 10 to No. 5. The change is primarily due to a considerable increase in the number of Christians being arrested and held without trial for their religious beliefs during the past year. In December, a large number of Christians with a Muslim background were also physically harmed in connection with their new-found faith.
Numbers 11-25 on the World Watch List are as follows: Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Comoros, Sudan, Uzbeistan, Yemen, Eritrea, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Nigeria (North), Libya, Morocco, Cuba and Brunei.
Rounding out the list at numbers 26-50 are the following countries: Colombia (conflict areas), Qatar, Tunisia, Russian Federation (Muslim republics of Chechnya, Kabardino Balkarya, Dagestan and Tatarstan), Mexico (Chiapas), Tajikistan, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Indonesia, Algeria, Nepal, Turkey, Mauritania, United Arab Emirates, Kurdistan, Oman, Kuwait, Belarus, Jordan, Bangladesh, Syria, Bahrain and Malaysia.