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North Korea Top Persecutor

Contact: Jerry Dykstra, Media Relations Director, Open Doors USA, 616-915-4117, jerryd@odusa.org


SANTA ANA, Calif., Feb. 7 /Christian Newswire/ -- Christian persecution continued unabated in many countries, according to the Open Doors "World Watch List," released annually to draw attention to the world's 50 worst persecutors.


The 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 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom from Open Doors' indigenous contacts, field workers and persecuted believers.


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 6-10.


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, which meant increased pressure for Christians. Open Doors uncovered information which indicates that more Christians were arrested in 2006 than in 2005. Between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are currently suffering in prison camps. Many of them are tortured. Others are still putting their lives at risk by trying to flee to China.


Public non-Muslim worship is prohibited in Saudi Arabia 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. Go to our website at www.OpenDoorsUsa.org to sign up to pray for 10 minutes a week. And during North Korea Freedom Week April 22-29, Open Doors will offer other ways you can make a difference."


The conditions for Christians deteriorated in 2006 in countries like Uzbekistan, Eritrea, Comoros, Iraq, northern Nigeria, Algeria, Mauritania, Turkey, Ethiopia and northeast Kenya. In No. 21 Iraq, 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).


For a complete World Watch List of the top 50 persecutors, an in-depth look at the top 10 countries on the list and a list of countries where the situation deteriorated or improved the most, go to www.OpenDoorsUsa.org.


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. To partner with Open Doors, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our USA website.