While North Korea held its spot for the 13th consecutive year as the most dangerous country for Christians to live, a new report noted other countries are experiencing unprecedented levels of persecution.
Open Doors, which seeks to strengthen the persecuted church overseas, released its annual World Watch List Wednesday (Jan 7). The list, which was first compiled in 1991, ranks the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous and difficult to be a Christian.
Among the top 10 of the 2015 list were these countries: North Korea (1); Somalia (2); Iraq (3); Syria (4); Afghanistan (5); Sudan (6); Iran (7); Pakistan (8); Eritrea (9); and Nigeria (10).
This year Open Doors reported the “threshold was higher for a country to make the list,” indicating increased levels of worldwide persecution.
Open Doors USA President David Curry said, “Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination and violence. The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.”
While persecution can take many forms, Open Doors said in its report, Christians throughout the world risk imprisonment, torture, rape and death as result of their faith. Approximately 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making them one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world, the report said.
An estimated 70,000 Christians in North Korea remain in prison for their faith, Open Doors reported. And the conditions appear to be worsening for Christians throughout Asia. Countries such as Uzbekistan (15), Vietnam (16) and India (21) have all seen increases in persecution.
Islamic extremism is the main source of persecution in 40 of the 50 countries on the 2015 World Watch List, Open Doors reported.
The Middle East remains one of the most violent areas of the world for Christians, the report said, and violence against Christians by the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) terrorist group increased in Iraq and Syria. More than 70 percent of Christians have fled Iraq since 2003, and more than 700,000 Christians have left Syria since the civil war began in 2011. The report also noted Afghanistan and Pakistan have both increased in persecution.
Africa saw the most rapid growth of persecution, the report said.
For the third year in a row, the report said, the majority of African nations on the World Watch List have increased in rank due to Islamic extremism. Kenya jumped from No. 43 to No. 19 on the list. Christian persecution also remains severe in Somalia, which came in second on the list. Nigeria appeared in the top 10 for the first time, the report said, and both Sudan and Eritrea reentered the top 10.
Curry said the goal of the World Watch List is to “keep Christian persecution on the radar of those enjoying the privileges of freedom.”
“The perpetrators of persecution need to know that the world is watching and stands in opposition to persecution,” he said. “And for the persecuted, we want them to know that they are not forgotten.”
Christian persecution is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ, the report said. Recent examples include imprisonment, torture, beheadings, rape, and loss of home and assets.
Nonviolent persecution is also on the rise, the report said. In addition to the violence toward Christians that is often reported in the news, many believers also endure family exclusion, the loss of a job or rejection from a community.
The list of 50 countries may be viewed online at www.worldwatchlist.us.