A Christian persecution watchdog released its annual list on Wednesday, ranking the top 50 countries according to the intensity of persecution.
The 2006 Open Doors World Watch List kept North Korea as the number one Christian persecutor for the fourth straight year, a ranking that is not a surprise among human rights groups. It also listed Saudi Arabia and Iran in the top three.
1. North Korea
"North Korea is the most repressive nation in the world," said Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller. "It breaks my heart to hear some of the atrocities against our brothers and sisters there."
Along with imprisonment and persecution, Open Doors' staff estimates that hundreds of Christians were killed by the communist regime in 2005.
The "not free" country has remained a serious concern for U.S. leaders and human rights activists, who have recently urged the state department to implement key provisions of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004.
An earlier human rights report released by Freedom House - Freedom in the World 2006 - gave the communist nation the lowest rankings, specifically in political rights and civil liberties. Abuses and human rights violations in North Korea were also cited in a landmark study titled Thank you, Father Kim Il Sung, which was released by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in November.
2. Saudi Arabia
Tailing the oppressive nation for the past four years on the Open Doors persecution list was Saudi Arabia, where religious freedom does not exist.
In the latest International Religious Freedom Report, no change was recorded in the status of religious freedom last year for the country designated as one of eight "Countries of Particular Concern" (CPC).
More than 70 expatriate Christians were arrested in 2005 during worship in private homes in what has been called Saudi Arabias largest crackdown on Christians in a decade, reported Open Doors. Most of the arrested Christians were eventually released.
The situation for Christians in Iran took a turn for the worse with the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Up from number five to the third spot on the World Watch list, Iran saw a new wave of persecution in 2005.
The New-York based Human Rights Watch reported a considerable deterioration of basic human rights in the Islamic state. Along with Christians, Muslim-background believers (Christians from Muslim backgrounds) have greater fear of being persecuted and even killed for their faith.
The top ten countries in the Open Doors report has remained relatively the same except for the inclusion of Yemen, which went from the eleventh rank to number eight. Afghanistan was pushed down to number 11.
Deterioration was seen in Uzbekistan, India and Bangladesh while improvements in the situation for Christians were noted in Vietnam, Laos, Afghanistan, Sudan, northern Nigeria, Colombia and southern Mexico.
The following is the complete list of the 2006 Open Doors World Watch List:
1. North Korea
2. Saudi Arabia
18. Myanmar (Burma)
28. Nigeria (North)
30. Sri Lanka
31. Russia (Muslim Rep)
42. United Arab Emirates
44. Colombia (Conflict Areas)
48. Mexico (South)
49. Philippines (South)
50. Kenya (Northeast)
For more information, visit www.opendoorsusa.org