- (Photo: Reuters/Juda Ngwenya)
In some of the most dangerous and restrictive countries in the world, Christians suffer interrogation, arrest and even death, for their faith.
Persecution of Christians in Africa vastly increased in 2012, according to the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face persecution for their faith.
Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians worldwide, states that this increase is mainly due to the increasing influence of Islam.
As three of its northern regions have fallen into the hands of 'al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb' (AQIM) and its local allies, Mali is a newcomer on the list and holds the No. 7 position.
It is widely believed that these Islamist extremists are planning to kill all Christians in Mali.
Moving also on the World Watch List are Tanzania which comes as No.24, Kenya No. 40, Uganda 47 and Niger No. 50.
Ethiopia, a Christian stronghold for centuries, is now one of the strongest risers and has moved from No. 38 to No. 15 on the list.
Topping the World Watch List is North Korea. For the 11th consecutive year, the country holds a pole position when it comes to persecution of Christians.
Life is extremely dangerous in North Korea where possessing a Bible alone can be a reason for a Christian to be executed or sent, along with three generations of his or her family to a prison camp where an estimated 50,000 and 70,000 Christians suffer in horrific conditions.
Nothing seems to have changed under new leadership and on the contrary persecution of Christians has increased." Reportedly one labor camp alone could hold up to 6,000 Christians," says Open Doors.
According to the organization, the Top 10 on the World Watch List consists of eight countries where extreme Islam poses the largest threat for Christians. These countries are Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran and Yemen.
However, Open Doors researchers have found that the most notable increase of persecution is taking place in Africa, especially with the rise of fundamentalist variations of Islam.
One of the most blatant manifestations of such extremism are the attacks on Christians of groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria.
The researchers reveal also that the influence of Islam has increased through "infiltration in politics, business and the judicial power" specifically with the introduction of Sharia family courts.
Apart form Mali, Syria made the largest jump on the World Watch List and stands as No. 11 on the list, compared to No. 36 in 2012.
For years Christians in Syria were allowed the freedom to worship but not evangelize. Today, states Open Doors, they have come under pressure from rebels fighting against the regime and from jihadists who entered Syria with an anti-Christian agenda.
The situation of Christians in Egypt remains a matter of concern and the country's score does not show any improvement. According to Open Doors, Egypt is going through a difficult stage with Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who are now in power.