Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA has ranked the top 50 most dangerous places for Christians in the world today in its 2017 World Watch List, with North Korea once again topping the list.
"For Christians in the West, the Open Doors World Watch List is a clear indicator that we need to advocate on behalf of those who do not have the same religious freedom privileges we do," said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA.
"We hope the Trump administration will address religious liberties in the first 100 days in office."
Open Doors revealed that persecution rose globally for a third year in a row, with countries in South and Southeast Asia rising rapidly in danger levels, almost matching the severe persecution Christians face in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The watchdog group estimated that close to 215 million Christians experience "high, very high or extreme persecution" in the countries that made the top 50 ranking.
Researchers with Open Doors used a points-based scale to rank the worst persecutors of Christians around the world, with the top 10 list going as follows:
1. North Korea (92 points)
2. Somalia (91 points)
3. Afghanistan (89 points)
4. Pakistan (88 points)
5. Sudan (87 points)
6. Syria (86 points)
7. Iraq (86 points)
8. Iran (85 points)
9. Yemen (85 points)
10. Eritrea (82 points)
As in past years, Islamic extremism remained the top driver of Christian persecution, and was the primary reason for the oppression of Christians in 35 out of the 50 nations listed.
North Korea and its secretive government, which outlaws even owning a Bible and carries out imprisonment and executions of Christians, remained in the top spot for the 15<sup>th year.
The West African country of Mali made the biggest jump from last year's list, rising from No. 44 to No. 32.
Besides government persecution and Islamic extremism, which were well represented in the top 10 list, India's Hindu-majority nation also climbed to its highest ever listing at No. 15, due to the rising attacks by Hindu nationalists. Open Doors said that an average of 40 incidents per month against Christians or churches were reported in India during 2016.
Despite military advancements against the Islamic State terror group in the latter half of 2016, Syria and Iraq remain high on the list, at 6<sup>th and 7<sup>th, respectively, with even the United Nations warning that genocidal crimes have been committed against religious minorities.
"The Open Doors World Watch List is the most accurate, thorough and intensive research available on the persecution of Christians," said Curry.
"It calculates not only deaths reported in the news, but also persecution at a grassroots level, where family-to-family persecution is tracked. The 25-year research shows where the most unstable areas for Christians have historically been and, in many countries, remain."
Open Door's top 50 list had several similarities with the rankings by International Christian Concern, another watchdog group that recently released a top 12 list of nations where Christians face the most persecution. One notable difference was ICC's first-ever inclusion of the United States.
"While conditions in the U.S. are in no way comparable to other countries on the list, a certain segment of the culture and the courts seem to be intent on driving faith out of the public square. There have been too many court cases with bad decisions to miss the clear trend line," said Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern.
"Decades of accumulated poor judicial decisions and precedents have twisted the First Amendment so that the courts, in defiance of the Founders, are pushing religion out of the public square, and into the small space of private expression," ICC's report added at the time.