By BosNewsLife News Center with reports from Africa and Asia
JAKARTA/ABUJA/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– North Korea leads a list of nations where “Christians face the most severe persecution”, but “Muslim-majority” countries represent nine of the top 10 amid spreading Islamic extremism around the world, a major Christian watchdog said in comments obtained by BosNewsLife Thursday, January 5.
The group, Open Doors, said its annual World Watch List (WWL) placed the Communist-run nation at the top spot for the “10th time” as North Korea built a “bizarre quasi-religion” around the country’s founder Kim Il-Sung. Anyone with “another god” is automatically persecuted, Open Doors said. Up to 400,000 Christians are believed to worship underground, while up to 70,000 Christians are held in “ghastly prison camps”, according to rights investigators.
“How the death of Kim Jong-Il last month and the coming to power of his son Kim Jong-Un will affect the status of Christians in North Korea is hard to determine at this early stage,” explained Carl Moeller, who leads the Open Doors USA branch of the international group serving “persecuted Christians” worldwide.
“Certainly the situation for believers remains perilous” he said, adding that he has urged supporters to “Please pray with me that the Lord will open up North Korea and there will be religious freedom to worship the One, true God, not the gods of Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung.”
Yet, most other countries on the WWL are Muslim-majority nations with Afghanistan (2), Saudi Arabia (3), Somalia (4), Iran (5) and the Maldives (6) forming a bloc where Open Doors says indigenous Christians have “almost no freedom to openly worship.”
“Being a Muslim Background Believer or ‘Secret Believer’ Christian in a Muslim-dominated country is a huge challenge. Christians often face persecution from extremists, the government, their community and even their own families,” said Moeller. “As the 2012 World Watch List reflects, the persecution of Christians in these Muslim countries continues to increase. While many thought the Arab Spring would bring increased freedom, including religious freedom for minorities, that certainly has not been the case so far.”
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, is also mentioned in the list, at a time when intolerance and intolerance against Christians in Indonesia almost doubled in 2011, including an Islamist campaign to close down churches, according to rights investigators. In one of the latest reported incidents on Christmas Day, two churches in West Java’s Bogor city were reportedly prevented from holding Christmas services as Islamic extremist reportedly screamed and yelled at worshipers.
No injuries were reported, but the Indonesian Protestant Church Union, locally known as PGI, said it counted 54 acts of violence and other violations
against Christians in 2011, up from 30 in 2010.
For the first time Pakistan (10) entered the top 10, after a tumultuous year during which the nation’s highest-ranking Christian politician, Cabinet Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated for his attempts to change the blasphemy law. Additionally, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was shot by one of his security guards on January 4, 2011 after campaigning for Asia Bibi, a Christian farmer from rural Punjab sentenced to death for blasphemy, despite concerns in the investigation convicting her.
Tensions are also rising in Africa. Nigeria, Open Doors said, “remains the country with the worst atrocities” in terms of lives lost. More than 300 Christians were martyred last year in Nigeria, though the actual number is believed to be double or triple that number. “The total is probably greater in North Korea, but impossible to confirm due to its isolation.”
Since 2009 the extreme Islamic group Boko Haram, or ‘Western education is a sin’, destroyed more than 50 churches and killed many Christians, including at least 10 pastors, Open Doors said. On Christmas Day dozens of Christians died in attacks.
Sudan – where northern Christians experienced greater vulnerability after southern Sudan seceded in a July referendum, and where Christians were targeted amid isolated military conflicts – jumped 19 places last year from its 2010 ranking, from 35th to 16th. In northern Nigeria, where Islamist bombings, guerrilla-style attacks and increased government restrictions on Christians contributed to the region leaping by 10 on the list, from 23rd to 13th place.
In July 2011 southern Sudan, which is mostly Christian, seceded to become an independent country, called South Sudan, leaving the Christians of North Sudan much more isolated under President Omar al-Bashir. “In response to the loss of the south, al-Bashir vowed to make constitutional changes to make his country even more Islamic. On the ground the military has attacked Christian communities in battles over resources with many being killed,” Open Doors said. .
Violence against Christians is also rising in countries such as Egypt, where Coptic Christians comprise just 10 percent of the mainly Muslim population. There was “a disastrous start to 2011 when a bombing at the Coptic Orthodox Church of Saint Mark and Pope Peter in Alexandria killed 21 Christians on New Year’s Day,” Open Doors recalled.
“After the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in February, hopes soared for new freedoms for all Egyptians. But on October 9 the military turned on its own citizens in the Maspero massacre in Cairo, killing 27 Coptic Christian demonstrators. At the close of 2011, Islamist parties flourished in the November elections, prompting some to speak of an Arab Winter instead of an Arab Spring for Christians.”
In Asia, China still has “the world’s largest persecuted church of 80 million” but it dropped out of the top 20 this year to number 21, Open Doors said. Last year China ranked number 16. “This is due in large part to the house church pastors learning how to play “cat and mouse” with the government, Open Doors explained.
Open doors said in a statement that “the good news behind the bad news of rising persecution is an increase in church growth,” which often results from the persecution itself.
It quoted a pastor in Iran as saying: “We wouldn’t be growing if we didn’t have a price to pay for our witness.”
The WWL is based on a questionnaire devised by Open Doors to measure the degree of persecution in over 60 countries. The questionnaires are filled out by Open Doors field personnel working in the countries, and cross-checked with independent experts, to arrive at a quantitative score per country. Countries are then ranked according to points received.
About 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation, according to Open Doors estimates.
Open Doors says it “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.”