By Eric Leijenaar, BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent reporting from the Netherlands
ERMELO, NETHERLANDS (BosNewsLife) -- Christians in North-Korea have faced more persecution in 2007 than ever before, according to a major human rights report released Friday, February 1.
The Netherlands-based respected Christian rights group Open Doors said North Korea is number one on its annual World Watch List (WWL), which ranks countries by the "intensity of persecution" that Christians face "for actively pursuing their faith."For the first time, North Korea received over 90 of the maximum 100 points given to the alleged most serious violators of religious rights for Christians.
Vietnam and Somalia disappeared from the WWL's top 10 of its 50 mentioned "worst" countries, while China returned to that category, Open Doors said in comments published Friday, February 1, on the Website of Dutch Protestant daily 'Reformatorisch Dagblad' (Reformed Daily). China's return to the top 10 comes amid reports that Chinese security forces have been burning Bibles while closing house churches and detaining its leaders.
Isolated North Korea has been topping the WFL however for the last six years, said Open Doors from its headquarters in the Dutch town of Ermelo. "In no other country of the world, Christians are persecuted as severely as in the empire of the 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong Il," the group added. It said more Christians have been imprisoned in 2007 than the previous year, and cited local sources as saying that the situation "is getting worse" by the day.
North Korea's Stalinist system of carrying out Communism is based on "total devotion" of the individual to an ideology promoted by the late leader Kim Il Sung and his successor and son, Kim Jong Il, according to observers who visited the isolated nation. Christianity is seen as a threat. North Korean authorities have denied wrongdoing and say the North Korean people love to seve the isolated country's "dear leader."
"We hope and pray that the persecution has now reached its highest point, and that persecution will really start to decrease in 2008," said Open Doors' International Director Johan Companjen. He said however that Christians in North-Korea say they have become more courageous thanks to prayers," of fellow believers around the world. "Perhaps that's why more believers have been jailed," he stressed.
Among other nations mentioned in the WFL are Islamic nations Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Maldives, occupying the second, third and fourth places on the list. Bhutan 'rose' 7th to 5th place, has Somalia and Yemen received less points for severity of persecution,
Open Doors said.
Afghanistan is also in the top 10 (on 7th place) especially because of what Open Doors described as "several incidents involving Christians" including the murder of two South-Korean missionaries during a hostage drama last year. The situation in Laos, Uzbekistan and China also remained serous. Eritrea, where an estimated 2,000 predominantly evangelical Christians have been jailed, received 11th place on Open Doors' WWL.
Other countries where Christians allegedly face increased persecution are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Jordan, Belarus and the Palestinian territories.
Open Doors said it included the Palestinian territories "for the first time" in the WF:. following the murder in October of Christian bookshop manager Rami Ayyad by Muslim militants and related threats against other Christians.
Some countries however saw a "light" improvement, including Burma despite a recent bloody crackdown by the military government on pro-democracy demonstrators, Open Doors claimed. Ethiopia, Colombia also saw "improvements", while for the first time Nepal was no longer mentioned on the WWL of 50 nations.
Open Doors spokesman Jeno Sebok said the WWL was based on thorough research. "It's very difficult to prepare this list every year," he said, adding that his organization has set up offices in 25 countries of the world. "We hope that the distribution of this list will encourage human rights organizations and authorities to improve the situation of persecuted Christians," he explained.
Worldwide, some 200 million Christians suffer persecution for their faith, with another up to 400 million facing discrimination, according Open Doors estimates.
Open Doors was founded by Dutchman Anne van der Bijl, known in English-speaking countries as Brother Andrew, a Christian missionary famous for his exploits smuggling Bibles to Communist countries in the height of the Cold War, which earned him the nickname "God's smuggler", a title he later used for a best-selling book on his life and work. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).
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