Views from the News
Stephen Baker, Manchester
UP TO DATE STATISTICS ON WORLDWIDE PERSECUTION OF BELIEVERS
This year’s No.1 spot on Open Doors’ 2008 World Watch List is no stranger: North Korea has now topped the list for six years in a row. There is no other country in the world where Christians are being persecuted in such a horrible and relentless way. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia holds second place, followed closely by Iran. Maldives is number four.
Islam is the majority religion in six of the top ten countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Maldives, Afghanistan, Yemen and Uzbekistan. Three countries have communist governments: North Korea, Laos and China. Bhutan is the only Buddhist country on the Top Ten list. The World Watch List ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith. The list is compiled based on the answers to fifty questions covering various aspects of religious freedom from Open Doors’ indigenous contacts, field workers and persecuted believers.
More Christians were arrested in North Korea in 2007 than in 2006. Many have been beaten, tortured or killed because of their religious beliefs. Open Doors’ local source estimates the number of underground Christians to be at least 200,000, and it’s likely that there are as many as 400,000 to 500,000 believers. At least a quarter of the Christians are imprisoned for their faith in political prison camps, from which people rarely get out alive. Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA, says, ‘It is certainly not a shock that North Korea is No. 1 on the shame list for the sixth year in a row. There is no other country in the world where Christians are being persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner. I encourage you to join our prayer campaign for North Korea and to plug in to the many opportunities Open Doors offers to advocate for the oppressed believers during North Korea Freedom Week, April 27-May 3. All the information is on our Website website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org’.
In Shariah-ruled Saudi Arabia, the deplorable state of religious freedom remained generally unaltered in 2007. Under the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, apostasy (conversion to another religion) is punishable by death if the accused does not recant. There were no reports of executions for apostasy in 2007.
Islam is the official religion in Iran, and all laws and regulations must be consistent with the official interpretation of Shariah law. Although Christians are a recognized religious minority who are guaranteed religious freedom, they have reported imprisonment, harassment and discrimination because of their faith.
China is a large country with many contradictions. There are Christians who are restricted in their freedom to worship, but there are also areas where the situation is not as tight. Sometimes the government crackdowns against Christians were motivated by preparations for the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008 and not on anti-Christian grounds. The government wants to make sure that there is no risk of instability during 2008. The way they want to achieve this differs in various areas and situations. Sometimes unprecedented politeness is used, but there are also reports of house church raids and arrests.
In Pakistan, the influence of fanatical Muslims increased in the state security forces and the police, which meant that Christians in general were more closely monitored than before. Also, the number of attacks on churches, Christian homes and other meeting places increased.
New on the World Watch List are the Palestinian Territories, where a Christian was murdered and several others were imprisoned, questioned and beaten because of their faith.