Worthy News Europe Bureau with Worthy News' Senior Special Correspondent Johan Th. Bos reporting from the Netherlands
BUDAPEST/AMSTERDAM/WASHINGTON D.C. (Worthy News)– One of the world's largest mission agencies, Open Doors, named North Korea and Iran Wednesday, November 6, as "the worst persecutors of Christians".
In statements issued at its headquarters in Ermelo, Netherlands, and in Santa Ana, California, Open Doors said the two countries with "the most notorious and restrictive regimes in the world" were placed on top of its 2010 World Watch List (WWL) of 50 countries with the "worst" persecution.
"In the number1 spot for the eighth straight time is North Korea, the country where every religious activity is recognized as an insurrection to the North Korean socialist principles," said Open Doors, one of a few organizations working with underground churches in the isolated nation.
Last year, the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-Il targeted Christians all over the country which resulted in "arrests, torture and killings," according to Open Doors' annual WWL.
"North Korean leaders are desperately trying to control society in order to eradicate all Christian activities. There are an estimated 200,000 North Koreans in political prisons, including 40,000 to 60,000 Christians," Open Doors said.
Open Doors quoted a veteran North Korean watcher, who did not want to be named for security reasons, as saying that "Christians are the target of fierce government action, and once caught, are not regarded as human." Last year, "we had evidence that some were used as guinea pigs to test chemical and biological weapons," he added.
Iran was named as number one on the WWL. Iran was previously number 3, behind Saudi Arabia. Open Doors cited a "wave of arrests of Christians which started in 2008" as the main reason for the change. The detentions, it said, "continued even stronger during 2009, resulting in the arrest of at least 85 Christians."
Open Doors said it suspected that the arrests are a way for the Iranian government to distract attention from internal problems, including the domestic turmoil after the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Most of those arrested were mistreated in prison. The turmoil and rioting continued at the end of 2009."
Of the countries on the top 10 list, eight have Islam as their dominant religion — Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Maldives, Afghanistan, Yemen, Mauritania and Uzbekistan. North Korea and Laos are communist countries. Also, 35 of the 50 countries on the list have Islamic governments.
"It is certainly not a shock that North Korea is number 1 on the list of countries where Christians face the worst persecution," said Carl Moeller, who leads Open Doors USA. "There is no other country in the world where Christians are persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner. Three generations of a family are often thrown into prison when one member is incarcerated."
"Iran jumping to number 2 is noteworthy," he added. He said Iranian Christians Maryam Rustampoor and Marzieh Amirzadeh, who have a Muslim background, were detained last year "simply for being Christians and refusing to recant their faith in Jesus Christ."
They were released almost two months ago, helped by an advocacy campaign by Open Doors and other Christian organizations. There has also been international publicity about their case, including by BosNewsLife. "But these two brave women along with hundreds of other believers still remain at risk inside Iran," Moeller added.
He said that despite "the growth of persecution" in "many regions" of the world, Christianity continues to flourish. "There is a strong group of Christians in North Korea and actually the number of Christians in North Korea has grown in the last 10 years. Many are coming to Christ in the Muslim world." However he said his organization had urged Christians to "continue to embrace them in prayer in 2010."
Saudi Arabia at number 3 remained unchanged on the WWL, although "no reports of Christians killed or physically harmed for their faith were received, and only one report of a Christian arrested was noted."
Somalia moved up one spot to the number 4 position as "religious freedom for Christians became worse" after Parliament in April voted unanimously to institute Islamic law in the African nation, Open Doors said.
Rounding out the top 10 are Maldives, followed by Afghanistan, Yemen, Mauritania, Laos and Uzbekistan.
Open Doors said that Yemen was cited on the list as the "Yemeni Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but it also declares that Islam is the state religion and that Sharia Law is the source of all legislation."
The Yemeni government allows expatriates some freedom to live out their faith, but Yemeni citizens are not allowed to convert to Christianity (or other religions). "Converts from Islamic background may face the death penalty if their new faith is discovered. Last June nine expatriate Christian health workers were kidnapped by armed men."
A few days later the mutilated bodies of three of them were found. The fate of the remaining six aid workers remains unknown.
New to the top 10 this year of Open Door's WWL is the North African country of Mauritania, holding the number 8 position. Mauritania jumped 10 spots, the biggest increase of any country in the poll. "The situation deteriorated due to the murder of a Christian aid worker in June 2009, the arrest and torture of 35 Mauritanian Christians in July and the arrest of a group of 150 of sub-Saharan Christians in August," Open Doors said.
The lone country to drop out of the top 10 list is the tiny African country of Eritrea, which fell from number 9 to number 11. That was remarkable as there are close to 3,000 Christians detained in the country because of their Christian activities, according to rights groups.
Open Doors recorded also fewer reports on persecution of Christians in Algeria, India, Cuba, Jordan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, which dropped from number 41 to number 48, the biggest improvement of any mentioned country on the WWL in 2009.
PERSECUTION FINGER PRINT
The World Watch List, started by the Open Doors Research Department in 1991, seeks to understand "the unique persecution fingerprint of each country." "This is to ensure effective intervention since Open Doors ministers to the persecuted church in more than 45 countries worldwide," the group said.
Data is derived from a questionnaire containing 53 questions sent to Open Doors co-workers, key church leaders and recognized experts in 70 countries.
The questionnaire examines every aspect of persecution, including the degree of legal restriction, state attitudes, how free the church is to organize itself, as well as incidents of persecution, such as church burnings, anti-Christian riots and killings.
At least over 200 million Christians are believed to face persecution world-wide.