The non-denominational relief organization Open Doors on Wednesday published its annual World Watch List of the 50 countries around the world where Christians face the most persecution.
The group estimates that some 100 million Christians globally are persecuted for their faith. Over the past year, both the severity and the geographic distribution of persecution have increased, reported Open Doors.
That is especially true in the Middle East, where only in Israel does the Christian population grow and thrive. Needless, to say, the Jewish state did not make the list of the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted.
Since 2002, North Korea has held tight to the inglorious top position on the World Watch List. Of the estimated 200,000–400,000 underground Christians in North Korea, up to 70,000 are listed as “enemies of the regime” and made to suffer torture and hard labor in detention camps.
After North Korea, most of the persecution is happening in the Middle East, where violent jihadism has been on the rise, putting the local Christian populations under increasing pressure.
Iran rose to seventh place on the list over the past year. Unlike other Muslim countries in the region, in Iran persecution of Christians is government sanctioned. Under the leadership of the “moderate” President Rouhani, prison sentences are more common than ever for those suspected of having come to faith in Jesus.
In neighboring Iraq and Syria, the atrocities committed by the Islamic State (ISIS) against local Christians have shocked the world. With the assistance of jihadists from around the world, ISIS has vigorously pursued the establishment of a caliphate imposing strict Islamic principles reminiscent of the violent times of the Prophet Mohammed.
Christians unfortunately enough to find themselves living under the caliphate have been forcibly evicted, enslaved and murdered. In the Nineveh Plains and the city of Mosul, ancient Christians communities, the entire Christian population have virtually disappeared.
The authors of the Open Doors study noted that in no less than 18 of the 20 highest ranking countries “Islamic extremism” is the main driving force behind the persecution of Christians.