CWN.com - Christians in North Korea faced more persecution in 2007 than ever before, according to Open Doors International, a ministry to the persecuted church.
Open Doors has put the communist nation atop its annual list of the world's harshest persecutors of Christians. While North Korea has held this position before, President of Open Doors USA Carl Moeller says North Korea received 90 of the maximum 100 points given. "I think that's the high record we've ever had for a country," says Moeller.
Moeller believes there are major problems in North Korea. "There are food shortages, there's state induced terror, there are Christians who are tortured on a regular basis simply because they expressed a belief in Jesus Christ to someone in a private way."
Vietnam and Somalia disappeared from the WWL's top 10 of its 50 mentioned "worst" countries, while China returned to that category. China's return to the top 10 comes amid reports that Chinese security forces have been burning Bibles while closing house churches and detaining its leaders.
North Korea has topped the World Watch List for the last six years. "In no other country of the world are Christians persecuted as severely as in the empire of the 'Dear Leader' Kim Jong Il," the group added. It said more Christians have been imprisoned in 2007 than the previous year and cited local sources as saying that the situation "is getting worse" by the day.
North Korea's Stalinist system of carrying out Communism is based on "total devotion" of the individual to an ideology promoted by the late leader Kim Il Sung and his successor and son, Kim Jong Il, according to observers who visited the isolated nation. Christianity is seen as a threat. North Korean authorities have denied wrongdoing and say the North Korean people love to serve the isolated country's dear leader.
"We hope and pray that the persecution has now reached its highest point and that persecution will really start to decrease in 2008," said Open Doors' International Director Johan Companjen. He said, however, that Christians in North Korea say they have become more courageous thanks to prayers of fellow believers around the world. "Perhaps that's why more believers have been jailed," he stressed.
Among other nations mentioned in the World Watch List are Islamic nations Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Maldives, occupying the second, third and fourth places on the list. Bhutan rose to 5th place. Somalia and Yemen are tied for sixth.
Afghanistan is also in the top 10 especially because of what Open Doors described as "several incidents involving Christians" including the murder of two South Korean missionaries during a hostage drama last year. The situation in Laos, Uzbekistan and China also remained serious. Eritrea, where an estimated 2,000 predominantly evangelical Christians have been jailed, received 11th place on Open Doors' WWL.
Other countries where Christians allegedly face increased persecution are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Jordan, Belarus and the Palestinian territories.
Open Doors said it included the Palestinian territories "for the first time" in the WWL following the murder in October of Christian bookshop manager Rami Ayyad by Muslim militants and related threats against other Christians.
Moeller says we shouldn't be surprised by the persecution. "Wherever the Gospel goes, God told us there would be opposition, that there would be those who would stand up against us and even drag us into prison."
Some countries, however, saw a "light" improvement, including Burma despite a recent bloody crackdown by the military government on pro-democracy demonstrators, Open Doors claimed. Ethiopia and Colombia also saw "improvements," while for the first time Nepal was no longer mentioned on the WWL of 50 nations.
Open Doors spokesman Jeno Sebok said the WWL was based on thorough research. "It's very difficult to prepare this list every year," he said, adding that his organization has set up offices in 25 countries of the world. "We hope that the distribution of this list will encourage human rights organizations and authorities to improve the situation of persecuted Christians," he explained.
Worldwide, some 200 million Christians suffer persecution for their faith, with another up to 400 million facing discrimination, Open Doors estimates.
Moeller says Christians understand why this is happening.
"The brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted for their faith tell us that not only is it because they're witnessing for Jesus Christ, but because of the persecution, their faith has grown even stronger and their witness has grown even bolder. God uses that suffering in many ways to spread His church," he said.