Despite Communist North Korea topping the annual Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) for the ninth consecutive year, the most dangerous countries in which to practice Christianity are overwhelmingly Islamic ones.
Of the top 10 countries on the 2011 WWL, eight have Islamic majorities. Persecution has increased in seven of them. They are Iran, which clamps down on a growing house church movement; Afghanistan, where thousands of believers cluster deep underground; and Saudi Arabia, which still refuses to allow any Saudi person to convert to Christianity. Others are lawless Somalia, ruled by bloodthirsty terrorists threatening to kill Christian aid workers who feed Somalia’s starving, impoverished people; tiny Maldives, which mistakenly boasts it is 100 percent Islamic; Yemen with its determination to expel all Christian workers; and Iraq, which saw extremists massacre 58 Christians in a Baghdad cathedral on Oct. 31. Of the top 30 countries, only seven have a source other than Islamic extremists as the main persecutors of Christians.
The top 10 in order are North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen, Iraq, Uzbekistan and Laos, which has a Communist government. Iraq is new to the top 10 list while Mauritania dropped out, going from No. 8 to No. 13.
The annual World Watch List is compiled by the research department of Open Doors International. It tracks the shifting conditions under which Christians live in 77 societies and then ranks the top 50 where it is hardest to practice the Christian faith.
The country that saw the greatest deterioration of Christian religious freedom in the reporting period from Nov. 1, 2009, through Oct. 31, 2010, was Iraq, jumping from No. 17 to No. 8. The country has seen a Christian exodus in recent years, with an estimated 334,000 Christians remaining in this ancient cradle of Christianity, a drop of more than 50 percent since the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The main reason why Christians are fleeing is organized violence by an extremist militia, especially in the northern city of Mosul and in the capital Baghdad, in an attempt to cleanse these areas of its Christian presence. At least 90 Christians were martyred last year in Iraq while hundreds more were injured in bomb and gun attacks. More killings have taken place in the past two weeks.
“Being a Muslim Background Believer or ‘Secret Believer’ in a Muslim-dominated country puts a bulls-eye on the backs of Christians,” says Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. “There is either no freedom to believe or little freedom of religion. And as the 2011 World Watch List reflects, the persecution of Christians in these Muslim countries continues to increase.
“Please pray for brave believers like Asia Noreen (Bibi) who remains in prison in Pakistan after being sentenced to death on a false blasphemy charge. And for the dwindling Christian population in Iraq who are facing ‘religicide’ from Muslim extremists.”
The country with the largest Christian community on the WWL’s top 15 is Pakistan with more than 5 million believers. Pakistani Christians also faced a sharp erosion of their religious liberty with the country leaping from No. 14 to No. 11 on the current list. Twenty-nine Christians were martyred in the reporting period with at least one killing occurring every month. Four Christians were sentenced to long terms in jail for blasphemy against Islam, at least 58 Christians were kidnapped, more than 100 Christians were assaulted and 14 churches and properties were damaged.
Other countries that rose markedly on the new WWL were Afghanistan, up from No. 6 to No. 3, especially in the wake of ugly demonstrations when footage of Muslims being baptized was shown on network television. Dozens of Christians from the tiny Afghan church have had to move due to subsequent death threats, and in August a 10-person medical aid team from a Christian organization was slaughtered.
The year’s grisliest headlines were found in No. 26 Nigeria, however, where a staggering 2,000 Christians lost their lives in riots caused by Muslim extremists in some of the northern states in the country. Tension has been growing for more than a generation in northern Nigeria, and escalated after 1999 when 12 northern states adopted Sharia (strict Islamic law). On Christmas Eve Compass Direct News reported the killing of a Baptist pastor and five other Christians in northern Nigeria. More killings of Christians were also reported in the last two weeks.
Egypt is ranked No. 19 on the WWL and could be a focus of persecution this year as 21 Christians were killed in a bomb blast on New Year’s Day outside the Church of Two Saints in Alexandria.
While persecution continues to increase in Muslim-dominated countries, there is no question that North Korea deserves its No. 1 ranking. The state’s attitude towards Christians is extremely hostile – they should not exist. There is no freedom to build churches or to worship in homes. Possession of Christian materials is punishable by death. In May 2010 a group of 23 Christians was discovered. The police found Bibles and other Christian literature. Three people were publicly executed, and the others disappeared within the infamous Yodok Prison camp. It is estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians suffer in prison camps. The number of Christian martyrs in North Korea is hard to discern because it is such a secretive society, but Open Doors reports that hundreds of believers have been arrested.
For more information, including a list of all 50 countries on the WWL, go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world’s most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
(To set up an interview on the World Watch List, contact Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)