Dennis Rodman blows a kiss to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, seated above in the stands, before an exhibition basketball game with US and North Korean players at an indoor stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
(CNSNews.com) – On the day former NBA star Dennis Rodman sang “happy birthday” to Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, a religious freedom advocacy group named North Korea the world’s worst country to be a Christian for the 12th consecutive year.
Islamic states dominated Open Doors’ 2014 world watch list, accounting for nine of the ten countries with the worst records. Of the full 50-country list released Wednesday, 36 are countries where Islamic extremism is “the main engine driving persecution of Christians,” stretching from North Africa to Brunei.
The top ten countries for persecuting Christians over the last year were: North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran and Yemen.
“In no other country in the world are Christians so fiercely persecuted because of their faith than in North Korea,” said Open Doors. “Like others in that country, Christians have to survive under one of the most oppressive regimes in contemporary times. They have to deal with corrupt officials, bad policies, natural disasters, diseases and hunger.
“On top of that, they must hide their decision to follow Christ. Being caught with a Bible is grounds for execution or a life-long political prison sentence. An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians live in concentration camps, prisons and prison-like circumstances under the regime of leader Kim Jong-un.”
North Korea has topped the Open Doors’ watch list of countries where Christians face greatest persecution for 12 consecutive years. (Photo: Open Doors)
North Korea melds an atheistic, Stalinist form of communism with a quasi-religious personality cult around Kim and his predecessors, Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung.
While persecution of Christians is at its most extreme there, by far the largest number of countries on the watch list are Islamic states, where Christians – including converts from Islam – face violence and discrimination at the hands of the authorities, extremist Muslim groups, or both.
The countries in the top ten that rose most on the list since last year are Syria, up to third place from 11 a year ago; and Pakistan, rising to eighth place from 14.
In Syria, “atrocities against the Christian community, perpetrated especially by foreign supported jihadi groups, run at their highest level since the war began almost three years ago,” said Open Doors.
Syria also accounted for more Christians killed during the year than any other country over the past year – 1,213, followed by Nigeria (612), Pakistan (88) and Egypt (83).
“Polarization is increasing across the Middle East, and Islam is becoming even more radicalized with the civil war in Syria giving the jihadists a new impetus,” Open Doors quoted a watch list persecution analyst as saying.
Pakistani Christians protest after hundreds of Muslims burned and looted Christian homes in the city of Gorja in an August 2009 rampage. "Stop killing of innocent Christians," reads the placard. (AP Photo)
In Pakistan – described by Open Doors as “simply the world's most extremist infested state” – a suicide bombing at a Peshawar church last fall killed 89 Christians in the country’s deadliest attack targeting Christians. But the year also witnessed an increase in anti-Christian pressure in society.
In compiling the annual list Open Doors measures freedom Christians have in five spheres – private, family, community, national and church life – plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence.
“The methodology counts each sphere equally and is designed specifically to track the deep structures of persecution, and not merely incidents,” says the group. The list was independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom.
“Often completely unaddressed in the West is the fact that Christians are the largest persecuted minority in the world,” says Open Doors USA President/CEO Dr. David Curry.
“Countries on the WWL, such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East and North Africa are targeting Christians; imprisoning, punishing, and even in some cases murdering people who choose to express privately or publicly their Christian faith. The 2014 WWL is a wakeup call to Americans to become more aware of these atrocities and restrictions on religious freedom.”
Beyond the top ten, the Central African Republic, where Christians are being targeted by the mainly-Muslim Sekela rebel alliance and foreign mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, came from nowhere last year to make 16th place.
Another newcomer to the list this year, Sri Lanka, is in 29th place, “after a significant rise in anti-Christian violence (over 50 attacks on churches last year alone) powered by a strident Buddhist nationalist movement and higher pressure on Christians from local communities and monks.”
Big risers this year further down the list include Burma, Colombia, Jordan and Kazakhstan.
One of the trends tracked by the list was the increase in persecution for Christians in what are generally considered to be “failed” states, including six of the top ten – Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
Looking back over a decade, Islamic countries have always featured strongly on the annual list’s top ten, but the overall trend has been a worsening one.
On the 2004 list four of the top ten countries were Islamic. The number rose to five in 2005 and 2006, to six in 2007 and 2008, to seven in 2009, to eight in 2010 and 2011, to nine in 2012, to eight in 2013, and this year back to nine.