This week's report from the US Department of State on International Religious Freedom found that three-quarters of the world's population live in countries where religious freedom is severely restricted. Many of the worst places for Christians to live in the world are well known – North Korea, China, Iraq and Somalia, for example. However there are a number of countries that don't make the news so often, but can be difficult places for Christians to live.
This beautiful country in the Indian Ocean is better known as a tropical holiday paradise than for its increasingly fundamentalist religious practices. If you haven't been, the tourist brochures, with 'bare legs on the beach' shots, don't betray the fact that it is an overwhelmingly Muslim country.
The constitution requires that citizens and the holders of public office are Muslims, and proselytisation is illegal, according to the State Department. And there are signs that stricter forms of Islam are entering public life – for the first time a woman was recently sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, though this verdict was eventually overturned. Foreign workers have described increasing pressure to wear more modest dress.
There are restrictions on Bibles entering the country: the church there has to meet in secret and does not have a full Bible translated into the Dhivehi language, according to Christian persecution charity Open Doors. The Maldives is actually 13th on the Open Doors watch list for Christian persecution, which is higher than Saudi Arabia.
Laos has a repressive communist government, though the population is mostly Buddhist. The Religious Freedom report states that local authorities are often intolerant towards non-Buddhist religions, particularly Protestantism. According to the report, church leaders have been arrested and killed, and threatened if they did not stop preaching the gospel. Numerous Christians have been pressured to recant their faith under threats from local authorities.
Freedom of expression is not highly valued in the country, and so deviation from the norm is often treated with suspicion, according to Open Doors. When churches grow, tensions can develop between Christians and the animist local tribes over local resources. If Christians refuse to participate in Buddhist or animist religious services it can cause friction.
Eritrean people suffer a good deal of human rights abuses thanks to the one-party government and its authoritarian tendencies. Though roughly half the population are Christian and half Muslim, the government allows only certain denominations to exist and they must be registered and disclose their members.
The country is actually number three on the Open Doors World Watch List, as believers who do not belong to the official denominations have sometimes disappeared without trace, and face detention, torture, forced recanting as a condition of release, and other ill-treatment, according to the State Department.
Colombia is a nominally Christian country, and it has protections for religious freedom in its constitution. But this doesn't mean that Christians don't face significant pressures – primarily in areas where gangs, guerrillas and criminals have the power. Christians have been threatened and killed for preaching the gospel. The US Religious Freedom report says that pastors often don't report crimes of harassment and extortion, for fear of retribution and also due to pacifist beliefs.
Jordan is well known as one of the more tolerant of the Middle Eastern countries, and it has Christians in senior roles within the country. Its constitution protects freedom of belief, though Islam is officially the state religion. However the US Religious Freedom report states that converts from Islam to Christianity have been questioned by police and can face discrimination and violence.