For the first time in over 20 years, North Korea is not listed as the worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on watchdog Open Doors USA’s influential World Watch List.
Afghanistan has replaced North Korea as “the most dangerous place on the planet to be a Christian” on Open Doors USA’s 2022 World Watch List, released at a virtual press conference Wednesday morning.
Open Doors CEO David Curry said that his organization, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, takes into account “on-the-ground expert consensus about what’s happening around the world to Christians who are targeted simply for their faith.”
The World Watch List measures “pressure, intolerance and violence against the Christian faith worldwide.”
“The 2022 World Watch List reveals the most seismic changes in the history of our research,” Curry said. “For the first time ever, Afghanistan is the most dangerous place on the planet to be a Christian, coming in at No. 1 on the World Watch List. It has supplanted North Korea, which is now No. 2, for the first time in 20 years.”
Curry clarified that “North Korea has not gotten better” but rather that “Afghanistan has gotten worse.”
The ranking comes months after the Taliban Islamic radical insurgency retook control of the Central Asian country after the United States withdrew its military presence.
Curry shared the personal story of a young Afghan woman who “fled for her life and went into hiding” after the Taliban took control of the country. The woman finds herself in particular danger because she is both a female and a Christian.
Curry recalled a conversation Open Doors had with her and retold it from her perspective.
“A few years ago, the Taliban came and they took my father away because he was a Christian. They tortured him for months and then killed him. A few months later, my brother also disappeared and we’ve never heard from [him] again.”
“It’s no doubt that she knows where her fate is, and thus she and her mother are now on the run,” Curry said.
The human rights advocate maintained that the Taliban’s recapturing of Afghanistan led to a global rise in Islamic extremism that extends beyond its borders.
“In September, shortly after the Taliban seized control, a list was circulated with the names of prominent Christians. Somehow, this list fell into the hands of the Taliban,” he said.
“Those listed were among the first to be hunted,” he continued. “The Taliban’s interpretation of Islam considers Christians to be traitors, enemies of the state, enemies of the tribe and community. They are infidels from Islam, and in their mind, the punishment is death.”
Curry declared that every Christian who remains in Afghanistan “is either on the run or in hiding.”
He shared testimony from another Afghan Christian Open Doors USA spoke with, asserting that “the Taliban are going door-to-door and snatching young girls and destroying … families.”
Assessing the state of religious freedom worldwide, Curry said Open Doors’ data shows that “free societies” that protect freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are “facing a war against hatred and discrimination on two separate fronts.”
“The one battle is against tribal, religious and nationalistic extremists that’s sweeping the globe,” he described. “And there’s a second battle against authoritarian regimes who are deploying sophisticated systems of surveillance, censorship and punishment of anyone who believes or worships outside of a strictly enforced boundary.”
“Today, religious extremists and the governments they control or influence lead the World Watch List for the first time,” he said, adding that “extremism and tribalism are skyrocketing” along with “related incidents of harassment against Christians.”
“Nine of the top 10 countries on the World Watch List are run or influenced by radical Islamists or Hindu extremists,” Curry stated.
The only exception is North Korea, which is run by a “murderous dictator with a communist ideology.”
In addition to Afghanistan and North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran and India rounded out the World Watch List’s top 10 “countries where it’s most difficult to follow Jesus.”
“Our report shows that 360 million Christians globally now suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination. That’s one in seven Christians worldwide,” he lamented.
Curry emphasized that the World Watch List “also illustrates the challenges … to freedom of conscience and expression for all people, whether they have a religious faith or … consider themselves an atheist or just have different views from the majority of their culture.”
The list contains a total of 50 countries where persecution of Christians is either “extreme” or “very high.”
Open Doors USA determined that the top 10 countries on the list, as well as Saudi Arabia, have “extreme” levels of Christian persecution while the remaining 39 have a “very high” amount of persecution.
While the countries on the list are primarily located in Asia and Africa, a handful of countries in the Western hemisphere made it on the list.
Mexico, located directly south of the U.S., is ranked as the 43rd most dangerous country for Christians because of “organized crime and corruption.” Cuba came in as the 37th most challenging country for Christians because of “dictatorial paranoia.”
The complete report, which contains detailed examples of religious freedom violations in each country on the list, is available on the Open Doors USA website.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com