If you are a Christian, the worst place to live in the world is North Korea, according to Open Doors' 2008 World Watch List released Monday.
The annual country persecution list ranked North Korea in the No. 1 spot for the sixth year in a row. There were more arrests of Christians in the country in 2007 than in 2006, according to Open Doors.
In North Korea, considered by many the most repressive regime, citizens are strictly banned from worshipping any other gods beside those enforced in the state religion – a personality cult revolving around current dictator Kim Jong Il, and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung.
Moreover, Christianity is considered a serious threat to the regime's power and there are many reports of Christians being publicly executed, tortured or imprisoned indefinitely simply because of the discovery of their faith.
It is estimated that there are at least 200,000 underground Christians and up to 400,000 to 500,000 believers secretly practicing their faith in North Korea. At least a quarter of the Christians are imprisoned for their faith in political prison camps, from which people rarely get out alive, according to an Open Doors local source.
"It is certainly not a shock that North Korea is No. 1 on the shame list for the sixth year in a row," said Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA. "There is no other country in the world where Christians are being persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner."
In second place behind North Korea is the kingdom of Saudi Arabia where fundamentalist Wahabbi Islam dominates society and oppresses believers. Under the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islamic law, apostasy (conversion to another religion) is punishable by death if the accused does not recant.
Following close behind in third is Mideast neighbor Iran. Although Christians are officially recognized as a religious minority, believers regularly face discrimination and persecution.
Islam is the predominant religion in six of the top 10 countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Maldives, Afghanistan, Yemen and Uzbekistan.
This year, several countries moved up in the list including Bhutan (No. 5, up from No. 7), but mainly due to Somalia and Yemen's decrease in persecution.
Afghanistan also rose from No. 10 to No. 7 due to the South Korean Christian hostage drama last summer as well as other events that contributed to its worsening persecution status.
Two new countries were added to the 2008 list: Uzbekistan at No. 9, up from No. 11, and China at No. 10, up from No. 12 last year.
Three of the top 10 countries – North Korea, Laos and China – have communist governments. Bhutan is the only Buddhist country on the list.
Improvement in human rights occurred in Somalia (from No. 4 to 12), Vietnam (from No. 8 to 17), Burma (from No. 19 to 25), Ethiopia (from No. 37 to 43) and Colombia (from No. 43 to 50).
The World Watch List ranks countries based on the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith. The list is compiled based on answers to 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom from Open Doors' indigenous contacts, field workers and persecuted believers.
2008 World Watch List
1. North Korea
2. Saudi Arabia