Among the 50 countries that were ranked to be most restrictive and oppressive towards Christians, North Korea was listed at the top of the list for the 15th year.
The list of countries in which Christians face the most persecution was released by Open Doors on January 11, marking the 25th year that the persecution monitoring group has released the annual ‘World Watch List.’
“For Christians in the West, the Open Doors World Watch List is a clear indicator that we need to advocate on behalf of those who do not have the same religious freedom privileges as we do,” said president and CEO of Open Doors USA David Curry.
Following North Korea, Somalia came in second in the list, and Afghanistan came in third. Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea followed, in that order of ranking, making these the top 10 countries in the World Watch List. This year was the first time Yemen was included in the top 10, and replaced Libya, which was ranked 11th this year.
North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia are the only three countries to ever have been ranked at the top of the list. Saudi Arabia has been ranked first seven times, and Somalia has been at the top twice.
According to the report, some 215 million Christians face high, very high, or extreme persecution.
This year, Open Doors highlighted the increase in persecution faced by Christians in India, and the influence that religious nationalism has had in the increase of persecution in Asian countries. India was ranked 15th in the 2017 World Watch List, the highest it has ever been ranked.
“A stand-out trend is that religious nationalism is driving the Asian countries up the list,” Dr. Ron Boyd-MacMillan, director for strategic research at Open Doors, said. “It is most visible in India; India is at its highest position on the World Watch List ever. The Hindu extremists are really in power, and a mob can do what they like in India, and it’s a large Church so there are a lot of incidents.”
Open Doors also noted that an average of 40 incidents of persecution were reported each month in India, “including pastors beaten, churches burned, and Christians harassed.”
However, persecution as a result of Islamic extremism continues to be the most common, the report notes. Islamic radicalization was particularly noted in sub-Saharan Africa, in countries such as Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan. Extremist groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab have frequently attacked Christians, and in places such as Somalia, “Everything works against the Christian,” the report quoted a local Christian as saying.
Open Doors took into consideration degrees of pressure faced in five facets of life when compiling the World Watch List, including private life, family life, community life, national life, and church life. The group also considered the amount of violent incidents against Christians in creating the rankings.