To help Christians in the West understand the plight of persecuted Christians and how to uphold them in prayer, every year Open Doors, a ministry to the persecuted Church, compiles a World Watch List of 50 countries where persecution of Christians is the greatest. Through careful research, Open Doors USA ranks countries by the severity of persecution within their borders.
In the most recent World Watch List, published in February, North Korea ranked No. 1 on Open followed by Saudi Arabia, Laos, the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Iran and Turkmenistan.
The following is a look at No. 7 Maldives and No. 8 Bhutan, which are among the least evangelized countries in the world and whose few Christians are among the most persecuted believers on Earth:
According to Open Doors, there was no change during 2003 in the lack of religious freedom in the archipelago of the Maldives, which consists of 1,200 islands located southwest of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. The islands have a population of 320,000. Islam is the official state religion and religious liberty is severely restricted. The government requires that all citizens be Muslims, and the public practice of any other religion is prohibited. Non-Muslim foreigners are allowed to practice their religion in private, without inviting citizens to join. There are no churches allowed in the country, and the importation of non-Muslim religious materials is forbidden, apart from those for personal use by non-citizens. The few indigenous Christians live their faith in secrecy and extreme isolation. When discovered, they risk loosing their citizenship.
Buddhism is the state religion of the Kingdom of Bhutan, a country of 2 million located in the eastern Himalaya Mountains. Buddhists are clearly favored over followers of other religions. There was no change in the situation of religious freedom during 2003. Christians are suffering from harassment and discrimination by the government, local authorities and other citizens. According to local sources, mental torture is heavily inflicted on those who become Christians. They lose all their rights and are denied access to facilities and services of the government, such as education for their children and job opportunities. Some lose their rented facilities once their landlords – who fear government reprisal – know they are Christians. No religious materials except for Buddhist religious texts are allowed to enter the country.
Compass Direct reported that three house churches in the Sarpang district of southern Bhutan were visited by police on the night of April 11, 2004, following their Easter Sunday services. According to a respected Christian leader in Bhutan, the church members were warned to discontinue meeting together for worship. The raids seem to confirm a growing crackdown against Christian activity in Bhutan, according to Compass.
According to the source, police told the believers that their meetings were an expression of support for international Christian organizations which had been labeled as “terrorist” groups by the Bhutanese government.