The persecution of Christians is getting worse all around the world, and Open Doors USA CEO David Curry says it could well be the most severe since the early church was under assault by the Roman Empire.

On Wednesday, Open Doors USA released its 2016 World Watch List, an annual report listing the 50 most repressive nations for Christians.

“This past year saw the persecution of Christians escalating to an unprecedented rate,” Curry told WND and Radio America. “We think that perhaps not since the first century church have we seen such an unrelenting and spreading threat against the Christian faith.”

While there were some changes in the ranking of the 50 worst nations, Curry said there’s so much persecution around countries making the list, which are far more aggressive in targeting believers than even just a few years ago.

“One of the things that made this the most difficult time in the modern era is that it’s more difficult to get on the list,” he explained. “Every continent is more difficult. So, unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of bright spots.”

Once again, North Korea tops the World Watch List for the most brutal repression of Christians.

“Tens of thousands of Christians are imprisoned for their faith, some even executed for things just as simple as owning a bible,” said Curry, who listed three other elements that factor into Pyongyang’s depravity.

“First of all, you have a cult-like system that sees Christianity as a threat to the worship of the leader there and his ancestors. They also have the ability to control the police system and the judicial system, if you can call it that, to use all the means of government to suppress freedom of religious expression,” said Curry, who explained that believers are very fearful of being discovered by the government or its spies.

“The community itself is now so paranoid that it’s making it difficult for the Christian faith in North Korea,” he said.

Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Open Doors USA CEO David Curry: 

Iraq is second on the list as a result of both government oppression of Christians and the terrorist tactics of ISIS. In fact, the nations ranked ranked two through nine on the list are dominated by Muslims. In addition to Iraq, they include Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Libya.

Curry said the threat posed to Christians in Islamic nations is intensifying greatly.

“Extremists are solidifying and spreading their caliphate,” he said. “That’s true in the Islamic State sense. It’s now bleeding into Libya and some of these areas, but it’s also true in Africa. Boko Haram is spreading into Niger from Nigeria and hoping to solidify into Chad.”

Curry said Eritrea has shot up the list because the formal government there is forcing Shariah law throughout the country and cracking down mercilessly on Christians. He said prison conditions there are so horrific that many prisoners die after a short while.

Praying for persecuted Christians and their situations is the first recommendation from Open Doors USA, But Curry is also urging people to sign a petition at the site to urge President Obama to fight for persecuted believers. Curry is hopeful that America’s relationship with the likes of Iraq, Pakistan and Eritrea can foster pressure for reforms.

“People can sign this petition to encourage President Obama to make this a priority in his final year,” Curry said.

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