SANTA ANA, Calif., Jan. 5, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ — Despite Communist North Korea topping the annual Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) for the ninth consecutive year, the most dangerous countries in which to practice Christianity are overwhelmingly Islamic ones.
Of the top 10 countries on the 2011 WWL, eight have Islamic majorities. Persecution has increased in seven of them. They are Iran, which clamps down on a growing house church movement; Afghanistan, where thousands of believers cluster deep underground; and Saudi Arabia, which still refuses to allow any Saudi person to convert to Christianity. Others are lawless Somalia, ruled by bloodthirsty terrorists threatening to kill Christian aid workers who feed Somalia’s starving, impoverished people; tiny Maldives, which mistakenly boasts it is 100 percent Islamic; Yemen with its determination to expel all Christian workers; and Iraq, which saw extremists massacre 58 Christians in a Baghdad cathedral on Oct. 31. Of the top 30 countries, only seven have a source other than Islamic extremists as the main persecutors of Christians.
The top 10 in order are North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen, Iraq, Uzbekistan and Laos, which has a Communist government. Iraq is new to the top 10 list while Mauritania dropped out, going from No. 8 to No. 13.
The annual World Watch List is compiled by the research department of Open Doors International. It tracks the shifting conditions under which Christians live in 77 societies and then ranks the top 50 where it is hardest to practice the Christian faith.
The country that saw the greatest deterioration of Christian religious freedom in the reporting period from Nov. 1, 2009, through Oct. 31, 2010, was Iraq, jumping from No. 17 to No. 8. The country has seen a Christian exodus in recent years, with an estimated 334,000 Christians remaining in this ancient cradle of Christianity, a drop of more than 50 percent since the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The main reason why Christians are fleeing is organized violence by an extremist militia, especially in the northern city of Mosul and in the capital Baghdad, in an attempt to cleanse these areas of its Christian presence. At least 90 Christians were martyred last year in Iraq while hundreds more were injured in bomb and gun attacks. More killings have taken place in the past two weeks.
The country with the largest Christian community on the WWL’s top 15 is Pakistan with more than 5 million believers. Pakistani Christians also faced a sharp erosion of their religious liberty with the country leaping from No. 14 to No. 11 on the current list. Twenty-nine Christians were martyred in the reporting period with at least one killing occurring every month. Four Christians were sentenced to long terms in jail for blasphemy against Islam, at least 58 Christians were kidnapped, more than 100 Christians were assaulted and 14 churches and properties were damaged.
Other countries that rose markedly on the new WWL were Afghanistan, up from No. 6 to No. 3, especially in the wake of ugly demonstrations when footage of Muslims being baptized was shown on network television. Dozens of Christians from the tiny Afghan church have had to move due to subsequent death threats, and in August a 10-person medical aid team from a Christian organization was slaughtered.
The year’s grisliest headlines were found in No. 26 Nigeria, however, where a staggering 2,000 Christians lost their lives in riots caused by Muslim extremists in some of the northern states in the country. Tension has been growing for more than a generation in northern Nigeria, and escalated after 1999 when 12 northern states adopted Sharia (strict Islamic law). On Christmas Eve Compass Direct News reported the killing of a Baptist pastor and five other Christians in northern Nigeria. More killings of Christians were also reported in the last two weeks.
Egypt is ranked No. 19 on the WWL and could be a focus of persecution this year as 21 Christians were killed in a bomb blast on New Year’s Day outside the Church of Two Saints in Alexandria.
For more information, including a list of all 50 countries on the WWL, go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.