Open Doors USA is set to release its much awaited World Watch List for 2017 on January 11, which names the countries with the highest levels of persecution against Christians. It lists the world's 50 worst places to practice Christian faith, arranged in a ranking order.
"Persecution is increasing overall throughout the world. We're seeing it particularly in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa," said Emily Fuentes of Open Doors USA.
However, Fuentes noted that North Korea trumps all other countries in restrictions and atrocities against Christians. North Korea will be ranked as number one on the World Watch List once again in 2017. It will be the country's 15th time being ranked as the top persecutor of Christians.
"Even though persecution is horrific in places like Iraq, Syria, Somalia, there's no country that quite has the restrictions, violence, or targeting of Christians like North Korea," she added.
Violence against Christians rose for the third consecutive year, which is a conspicuous trend according to activist organizations tracking worldwide religious persecution.
Most of the increase in violence was attributed to radical Islamist groups such as ISIS, even as it provoked mass migration of Christians from the Middle East.
"Islamic State and its affiliates took their barbarity across borders like never before: into Libya, Kenya, and Egypt, culminating in random massacres in Paris on 13 November and in San Bernardino in the US on 2 December 2015," wrote Open Doors Director of Strategic Trends Ron Boyd-MacMillan in an analysis accompanying the Open Doors World Watch List 2016. "There is a feeling globally that no one is safe from the reach of these newer jihadists, who can recruit, convert and train any one through the internet."
In 2013, countries in which the government had deteriorated to the point that it had "little or no control" saw high levels of persecution against Christians. The following year, persecution increased at the fastest pace in Africa. The three countries that witnessed the highest incidence of violence perpetrated against Christians included Sudan, Eritrea, and Nigeria. In 2015, the persecution level surpassed that of 2014. The rise of Islamic extremists contributed to increased persecution in 35 out of 50 countries in World Watch List.
"Islamic extremism in the world today has two hubs, one in the Middle East, the other in sub-Saharan Africa," Boyd-MacMillan said. "In numerical terms at least, though not in degree, the persecution of Christians in this region dwarfs what is happening in the Middle East."