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.
- Iran, which clamps down on a growing house church movement
- Afghanistan, where thousands of believers cluster deep underground
- Saudi Arabia, which still refuses to allow any Saudi person to convert to Christianity
- Somalia, ruled by lawless, bloodthirsty terrorists threatening to kill Christian aid workers who feed Somalia’s starving, impoverished people
- Maldives, which mistakenly boasts it is 100 percent Islamic
- Yemen with its determination to expel all Christian workers
- Iraq, which saw extremists massacre 58 Christians in a Baghdad cathedral on Oct. 31
- Uzbekistan, where short-term prison sentences are given as a penalty for breaking the law on religion
The country however that saw the greatest deterioration of Christian religious freedom 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.
Other countries that rose markedly on the new WWL were Afghanistan, 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.
The year’s grisliest headlines were found in No. 26 Nigeria 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).
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. The number of Christian martyrs in North Korea is hard to discern because it is such a secretive society. It is estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians suffer in prison camps.
Visit the 2011 World Watch List site for more information, including a list of all 50 countries. We also invite you to be “On World Watch.” Take the pledge and be an advocate for persecuted Christians worldwide.
Father, as we enter into a new year and look over the whole globe, we see the intense suffering of Your people and grieve for them. Protect them in Your tender care. Be their encouragement and strength. Build their faith in the midst of their persecution. Show Your presence to them. And we pray for justice and peace to settle over this world of turmoil.
If this story has touched you, please share your thoughts with us below:
Additional Prayer Alerts
The case of Asia Noreen, the first Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges, suffered a major setback when her most vocal supporter, the governor of Punjab Province, was gunned down by one of his police bodyguards this week.
At least 21 people were killed and scores were wounded on Saturday (Jan. 1) when a bomb planted outside a church exploded.
An army of volunteers quickly assembled a make-shift site allowing Christians to celebrate Christmas.