North Korea Tops Persecution Watch List Again

North Korea has once again topped the Open Doors' "World Watch List", the annual blacklist of the world's 50 worst persecutors announced this week by Open Doors USA.

The reclusive communist nation of North Korea tops the list for the fifth year in a row, followed by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia and Maldives. The five worst countries are unchanged from last year's World Watch List. Yemen (No 8 last year), Bhutan (No 6 last year), Vietnam (No 7 last year), Laos (same) and Afghanistan (No 11 last year) hold spots six to 10.

The annual list is compiled on the basis of answers to 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom from Open Doors' indigenous contacts, field workers and persecuted believers.

Media attention was focused on North Korea in 2006, but nothing has changed for the North Korean people. The North Korean regime launched missiles and tested nuclear weapons in 2006, but, according to Open Doors, this has only meant increased pressure for Christians.

The persecution watchdog said it had uncovered information indicating that more Christians were arrested in North Korea in 2006 than in 2005 and that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians there are currently suffering in prison camps - many of them experiencing torture. Others are still putting their lives at risk by trying to flee to China.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, public non-Muslim worship is prohibited and conversion to Christianity can be punished with death. In Iran, there were at least eight incidents in 2006 where Muslims who converted were arrested and held for several weeks.

Islam is the majority religion in six of the top 10 countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen and Afghanistan. Three countries have communist governments: North Korea, Vietnam and Laos. Bhutan is the only Buddhist country in the top 10.

Dr Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA, says: "It is certainly not a surprise that North Korea remains No 1. There is no other country in the world where Christians are being persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner. Open Doors is sponsoring a Prayer Campaign for North Korea."

To find out more and to sign up to pray for 10 minutes a week, go to their website at Christians can dedicate even more prayer time during North Korea Freedom Week from April 22 to 29.

Meanwhile, the conditions for Christians deteriorated in 2006 in countries like Uzbekistan, Eritrea, Comoros, Iraq, northern Nigeria, Algeria, Mauritania, Turkey, Ethiopia and northeast Kenya. Iraq came in at No 21 where there were reports of increased violence specifically targeted at Christians in addition to the daily violence. Iraq's Christian population is estimated to have dropped below 450,000, half the size in 1991.

There were also some positive developments. Christians fared better in 2006 in Morocco (from No 20 to 33), Nepal (No 34 to 48) and Tunisia (No 32 to 46).

An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers.

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For the complete list of top 50 persecutors, go to