Maryam Rustampoor and Marzieh Amirzadeh were arrested in Iran during 2009 just for being Christian
North Korea, which reportedly has used believers as guinea pigs to test chemical and biological weapons, is the world’s worst persecutor of Christians, while Iran, which may be using Christians as scapegoats for internal opposition to its president, is No. 1 on the Open Doors 2010 World Watch List.
Iran is among eight nations in the top 10 of the group’s ranking of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians in which Shariah, the Islamic religious law, is dominant. A total of 35 nations on the list are under some form of Shariah.
“We can classify that as a growing trend,” Jerry Dykstra, a spokesman for the ministry that works to serve persecuted Christians around the globe, told WND. “We’ve seen more countries (on the list) from the Muslim world.”
The World Watch List, which is detailed on the Open Doors website, was started by the Open Doors Research Department in 1991. It seeks to understand the unique persecution fingerprint of each country.
The ranking is derived from a questionnaire of 53 questions sent to Open Doors workers, church leaders and experts in 70 nations.
It examines every aspect of persecution, including the degree of legal restrictions, state attitudes, how free the church is to organize itself, church burnings, anti-Christian riots and the murders of Christians that make headlines.
Open Doors is positioned uniquely to provide the research as it is the world’s largest mission agency working on behalf of the persecuted, operating in more than 45 countries worldwide.
North Korea is No. 1 on the list for the eighth straight year. The report says every religious activity in the communist nation is viewed as an insurrection against the dictator, Kim Jong-Il. Arrests, torture and death are routine as North Korean officials desperately try to control all of society.
Open Doors reports an estimated 200,000 North Koreans are in political prisons, including 40,000 to 60,000 Christians.
“Christians are the target of fierce government action, and once caught, are not regarded as human,” said a veteran observer of North Korea who cannot be identified for security purposes. “Last year we had evidence that some were used as guinea pigs to test chemical and biological weapons.”
“It is certainly not a shock that North Korea is No. 1 on the list of countries where Christians face the worst persecution,” said Carl Moeller, the organization’s president. “There is no other country in the world where Christians are persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner. Three generations of a family are often thrown into prison when one member is incarcerated.”
Dykstra notes Kim Jong-Il insists on the adulation of his citizens as if he were a god.
“Kim Jong-Il continues to have a hold on the country,” Dykstra said. “But we know that Christians are praying that this is the year that they have freedom of religion, all kinds of freedom, and the regime will collapse.”
He said the Christian community in North Korea has been growing significantly despite the persecution. The organization recently provided secret training for 4,000 Christians there, books are being distributed and other outreaches that cannot be publicized are under way.
Iran, which previously has been No. 3 on the list, moved up to No. 2, bumping Saudi Arabia, after a wave of arrests of Christians that began in 2008 continued and even intensified last year.
“It is suspected that the arrests are a way for the Iranian government to distract attention from internal problems, including the domestic turmoil after the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” the report said. “Most of those arrested were mistreated in prison.”
Iran, at No. 2, is the highest-ranking nation in the top 10 in which Islam is the dominant religion. Following are No. 3 Saudi Arabia, No. 4 Somalia, No. 5 Maldives, No. 6 Afghanistan, No. 7 Yemen, No. 8 Mauritania and Uzbekistan, which ranked at No. 10. Laos, another communist nation like North Korea, is ranked No. 9.
“Iran jumping to No. 2 is noteworthy,” the report said. “Iranian Muslim-background believers Maryam Rustampoor and Marzieh Amirzadeh were arrested simply for being Christians and refusing to recant their faith in Jesus Christ. They were released almost two months ago, helped by an advocacy campaign by Open Doors and other Christian organizations. But these two brave women along with hundreds of other believers still remain at risk inside Iran.”
According to Compass Direct, which specializes in coverage of persecution of Christians, a wave of arrests hit Iranian house churches even during the Christmas season.
The arrests left at least five Christian converts, including the mother of an ailing 10-year-old girl, in detention.
Saudi Arabia continued its strong opposition to Christianity, but there were no new reports of Christians being killed. Somalia, which jumped into the top 10 a year ago, moved up to No. 4 after its treatment of Christians deteriorated when its parliament voted to institute Shariah.
Concern is growing over Yemen, because its constitution now establishes Islam as the state religion and Shariah as the source of all legislation.
“The Yemeni government allows expatriates some freedom to live out their faith, but Yemeni citizens are not allowed to convert to Christianity (or other religions). Converts from Islamic background may face the death penalty if their new faith is discovered,” the report said.
“Last June nine expatriate Christian health workers were kidnapped by armed men. A few days later the mutilated bodies of three of them were found. The fate of the remaining six aid workers remains unknown,” it said.
New to the top 10 is Mauritania at No. 8. It jumped from No. 18, the biggest increase of any country.
“The situation deteriorated due to the murder of a Christian aid worker in June 2009, the arrest and torture of 35 Mauritanian Christians in July and the arrest of a group of 150 of sub-Saharan Christians in August,” the report said.
The only country to drop from the top 10 was Eritrea, which fell from No. 9 to No. 11.
There were improvements in the treatment of Christians in Algeria, India, Cuba, Jordan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the group said.
Open Doors estimates there are 100 million Christians worldwide who suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation.