North Korea has retained its title as the worst country for the persecution of Christians in Open Doors' annual list of the worst countries for Christian persecution globally.
It is the 12th year in a row that North Korea has been ranked as the single most anti-Christian country in the world.
With between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians in the county's
concentration camps, labour camps, prisons, or prison camps, it could be
regarded as something of a miracle that there are still an estimated
400,000 believers in the North Korean underground church.
Under the brutal and oppressive reign of the Kim family, Christians
have been singled out for harsh punishments and imprisonment.
The punishment for owning a Bible or even just being found with one is either execution or a lifelong prison sentence.
On occasion, such a judgement can even become a multi-generational
punishment, with prisoners being forced into arranged marriages by the
guards and any resulting children also being imprisoned. It is
reportedly often the case that only the third generation of prison
children will get to see freedom.
This year's list has been described by Open Doors USA President/CEO
Dr. David Curry said the issue of persecution was routinely ignored by
the international community despite the fact that "Christians are the
largest persecuted minority in the world".
The list is based on how free Christians are to practise their faith
in the spheres of private, family, community, national and church life.
In addition, there is a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence
present in the country.
The spheres are all counted equally, with an aim
to highlight structural persecution, rather than specific incidents.
Dr Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, head of Strategy and Research for Open
Doors International, said, "It is our intent through the WWL to
encourage more people and organisations to carefully study the needs and
stories of persecuted Christians, and as a result deepen the passion to
pray for them.
"The WWL is more than a set of numbers. It must also be seen as a
human document, reflecting millions of sad but also amazing stories of
The top ten countries on the list represent the shift of world events
and what has been happening to Christians globally over the past 12
For the first time in the history of the list, a sub-Saharan country -
Somalia - is second, a position previously held by Saudi Arabia).
Somalia is in part controlled by 'moderate' Islamists, most notably
in the capital city of Mogadishu. However undercover surveillance
permeates the society looking for apostates that have converted away
from Islam to Christianity, meaning the Church has to function in
Outside of the government controlled regions, Somalia is largely
ungovernable, with the Islamist militant movement Al-Shabaab either
committing horrific feats of violence as they withdraw, or attempting to
impose harsh Sharia law where they hold ground.
A large jump on the list is Syria, which moved from 11th position in
2013 to third in 2014.
The war is continuing and international efforts
to intervene are increasingly hampered by an inability to see a side
they can reasonably support while being sure that they serve the best
interests of the country.
Syria has more martyrs than any other nation on this list, with 1,213
Christians dying for their faith, most at the hands of Jihadist groups.
During the most recent period, more Christians were killed in Syria in
all of 2013 than were killed globally in 2012.
Other countries of note include:
• Pakistan – 8th – with the
devastating bombing of All Saints church in Peshawar and the open
courting of anti-Christian Taliban groups by prominent politicians
Central African Republic – 16th – the Seleka Islamist rebels have been
running riot across the country after supporting a successful coup.
Christians are among their primary targets, but God's people are also
under attack from foreign fighters joining the conflict from Sudan and
other parts of Africa.
• Colombia – 25th – kidnapping by rebel groups such as the FARC have seen a substantial rise in the last 12 months
• Sri Lanka – 29th – a strident Buddhist nationalist movement has been
responsible for over 50 attacks on Churches in the past year alone.
There is also large amounts of social pressure from local communities
and collectives of monks.
The list confirms that the single largest systemic perpetrator of
Christian persecution worldwide is fundamentalist Islam, with the most
dangerous region being the Sahel region of Northern Africa, a semi-arid
area extending from Senegal on the Atlantic coast eastward to Sudan and
the Red Sea. In this area, one fifth of the world's Christians coexist
with one seventh of the world's Muslims.
The list also reveals that the number of Christians killed for their
faith has doubled in the last year.
According to Open Doors, some 2,123
Christians were reported to have been killed during the 12 months prior
to October 31, 2013. This compares to 1,201 in the previous 12 months.
The World Watch List emphasises that this is the "very, very minimum" count – only those who have been documented as killed.
"Christians aren't always directly killed, but are so much squeezed
with regulations and vulnerabilities that they just perish – not at
once, but in the course of years," said Open Doors.
"If we would include them in the counting, it would be an enormous
number of people. However, the precise number of Christians who die due
to these factors is very difficult to quantify."