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Pray for the Persecuted Church

Below you will find a report on the persecuted church and the nations involved with persecuting Christians. Some additional resources to help you pray for the persecuted church include:

Open Doors International Country List
Voice of the Martyrs Prisoner List
International Christian Concern Prayer Bulletin

The following report is provided by Open Doors International. They have done an amazing job putting it together. Please support their ministry!




Explanation of the World Watch List


A specially-designed questionnaire is used to compile the World Watch List. The questionnaire contains 49 questions. A point value is assigned depending on how each question is answered. The total number of points per country determines its position on the WWL.


The questions cover various aspects of religious freedom, differentiating between the legal, official status of Christians (e.g. Does the constitution and/or national laws provide for freedom of religion?; Are individuals allowed to convert to Christianity by law?) and the actual situation of individual Christians (Are Christians being killed because of their faith?; Are Christians being sentenced to jail, labor camp or sent to a psychiatric hospital, because of their faith?). Attention is paid to the role of the church in society (Do Christians have the freedom to print and distribute Christian literature?; Are Christian publications censured/prohibited in this country?) and to factors that may obstruct the freedom of religion in a country (Are Christian meeting places and/or Christian homes attacked because of anti-Christian motives?).


The “variation” column gives an indication of how certain we are about the information obtained. Sometimes information is unconfirmed or incomplete. In that case, the “variation” will rise. Thus some countries may be ranked lower on the list because complete information is not available.


The WWL Ranking


For the third year in a row, the complete lack of religious freedom in North Korea has positioned it first on the World Watch List. The strict Islamic kingdom of Saudi Arabia continues to hold the second position. Vietnam has risen one place to position three, followed by Laos in fourth place. Due to the continued pressure on believers in Iran, the country is in fifth place again this year. The Maldives remain sixth, followed by a new country in seventh place: Somalia. Christian converts from Islam are paying a high price for their new faith, especially in rural parts of this most lawless country in the world. There was no change in the status of religious freedom for Christians in Bhutan, which continues to hold position eight. In China, holding ninth place, the government increased control of religious activities during 2004. The top ten is concluded by a new number ten: Afghanistan, where the status of religious freedom deteriorated mostly because of the influence of Islamic extremists.


Islam is the majority religion in five of the top ten countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Maldives, Somalia and Afghanistan. Four countries have communist governments: North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and China. Bhutan is the only Buddhist country in the ten highest countries on the list.


Changes for the Worse

The status of religious freedom deteriorated in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Ethiopia. In Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, lawlessness and violence by Islamic fundamentalists caused most of the oppression of Christians, especially converts from Islam. In Somalia, three converts died as a result of physical attacks because of their new faith and several believers had to flee. Also in Afghanistan, new believers from Muslim backgrounds experienced heavy pressure from Islamists. Five converts were killed for abandoning Islam and spreading Christianity. Several Christians in Iraq were faced with written threats, kidnappings, bombings and murder by Muslim extremists. Tens of thousands of Christians fled to neighboring countries as a result. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the new (draft) constitutions do not allow any law that is deemed to be contrary to the beliefs of Islam.


In Eritrea and Ethiopia, evangelical Christians are not officially recognized. Hundreds of Protestant Christians were imprisoned for illegal religious gatherings in Eritrea in 2004 and kept in deplorable conditions. Many were pressured to renounce their faith. In Ethiopia, Christians experienced the most opposition from local authorities and radical Muslims in majority Islamic areas. A number of believers were imprisoned or have remained in hiding throughout the year.


Changes for the Better

The situation of Christians improved to different extents in Sudan, Colombia, Myanmar, Algeria, Turkey and Qatar.


After two decades of civil war, Christians in Sudan are encouraged by the recent peace agreements and hope they will now have better access to goods and services previously denied. During 2004, there were reportedly fewer Christians killed or physically harmed. This was also the case in the conflict areas of Colombia, which explains the decrease in rank for this country. However, religious freedom did not change significantly in the Latin American nation, where Christians continue to be faced with kidnappings or threats of kidnappings, and displacement because of violence. Recent information on the situation of believers in Myanmar shows that persecution is less serious than last year, although Christians still face church closures, difficulties in registration and a ban on church construction. A slight improvement in religious freedom is taking place in Algeria. Algerians are becoming adjusted to the presence of Christians, and the government generally does not interfere with church activities. Converts from Muslim backgrounds are still facing strong social pressure. In Turkey, legalization for religious freedom was adapted somewhat to European standards and some Christians enjoyed better treatment by authorities. Nonetheless, the improvement is not really accepted in most formal laws or in the minds of the Turkish majority. Qatar saw the launch of its first constitution, and it guaranteed freedom of religion. Five Christian communities received permission to start building five new churches, the first in the Gulf state since the seventh century.



Severe persecution




Severe limitations


Some limitations


Some problems




World Watch List        January 2005



        Country Name                               January 2005            January 2004             Trend      Variation       

1.      Korea, North                                 82,0                        82,5                     0          7,0

2.      Saudi Arabia                                 68,5                        70,5                    0            0,0

3.      Vietnam                                       65,0                        63,0                     0          0,0

4.      Laos                                            63,5                        65,5                     0          0,0

5.      Iran                                             63,5                        63,0                     0          8,0

6.      Maldives                                       60,5                        60,5                      0          7,5

7.      Somalia                          60,0                     57,0                 -       5,5

8.      Bhutan                           59,5                59,5              0       7,0

9.      China                            58,0                     57,5                 0       0,0

10.  Afghanistan                       58,0                55,5                 -       4,0

11.  Yemen                           57,5                        55,5                     0          4,0

12.  Turkmenistan                                56,0                     58,5                      0       2,0

13.  Pakistan                          50,5                52,0                 0       0,0

14.  Comoros                         49,5                50,5              0       2,0

15.  Uzbekistan                        49,0                49,0                 0       2,0

16.  Eritrea                            48,5                44,5              -       5,0       

17.  Myanmar (Burma)                         48,0                        53,5                     +          0,0

18.  Egypt                                           44,5                        46,0                     0          0,0

19.  Sudan                                          43,5                        47,0                     +          0,0

20.  Libya                                           42,5                        43,0                     0          7,5

21.  Iraq                                             42,0                        35,5                     -           2,0

22.  Azerbaijan                                    41,5                        43,0                     0          0,0

23.  Morocco                                       41,5                        42,5                     0          1,5

24.  Brunei                                          40,5                        40,5                     0          6,5

25.  Nigeria (North)                              40,5                        38,5                     0          0,0

26.  Cuba                                           39,0                        41,0                     0          0,0

27.  Russian Federation (Musl.)[1]            37,5                        37,5                      0          5,0

28.  Tajikistan                                     36,5                        36,0                     0          0,0

29.  Sri Lanka                                     36,0                        35,0                     0          0,0

30.  Djibouti                                        36,0                        34,0                     0          1,5

31.  Mexico (South)[2]                             34,5                        36,5                     0          0,0

32.  Tunisia                                         34,5                        32,5                     0          5,0

33.  Qatar                                           33,5                        39,0                     +          1,5

34.  India                                            33,5                        35,5                     0          0,0

35.  Nepal                                           31,5                        33,5                     0          4,0

36.  Colombia (Conflict Areas)[3]             31,0                        38,5                     +          0,0

37.  Indonesia                                     31,0                        31,5                     0          3,5

38.  Algeria                                         30,5                        33,5                     +          4,5

39.  Turkey                                         29,0                        32,0                     +          0,0

40.  Mauritania                                    28,5                        30,5                     0          5,0

41.  Kuwait                                         27,0                        26,5                     0          5,0

42.  Belarus                                        26,0                        26,0                     0          1,5

43.  United Arab Emirates                     25,0                        27,0                     0          4,5

44.  Oman                                          25,0                        27,0                     0          5,0

45.  Syria                                           24,5                        25,0                     0          2,0

46.  Bangladesh                                  24,0                        25,5                     0          0,0

47.  Jordan                                         24,0                        25,5                     0          0,0

48.  Kenya (North East)                        23,5                        21,5                     0          0,0

49.  Ethiopia                                        23,5                        21,0                     -           0,0

50.  Bahrain                                        20,5                        22,5                     0          6,5


Copyright © 2005 Open Doors International





Focus on the Top Ten


1. North Korea


The Stalinist country of North Korea is characterized by a complete lack of religious freedom and of many other human rights. For the third year in a row, North Korea heads the ranking as the worst violator of religious rights. Christianity is observed as one of the greatest threats to the regime’s power. The government will arrest not only the suspected dissident but also three generations of his family to root out the bad influence. Our local co-worker reports that at least 20 Christians were arrested for their faith in 2004. It is believed that tens of thousands of Christians are currently suffering in North Korean prison camps, where they are faced with cruel abuses. North Korea is suspected to detain more political and religious prisoners than any other country in the world. Though no exact figures can be given, our staff discovered that more than 20 Christians were killed by open air shootings or by beatings in the prison camps during the past year.


2. Saudi Arabia


Also this year, Saudi Arabia is high in the top ten of the World Watch List. Religious freedom does not exist in the Wahhabist kingdom. Its citizens are not allowed to adhere to any other religion than Islam. The legal system is based on Islamic law (sharia). Apostasy -- conversion to another religion -- is punishable by death. Christians and other non-Muslims are prohibited from gathering for public worship. Christians spreading their religion are likely to be imprisoned, as was Indian citizen Brian O’Connor who was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment and 300 lashes during the past year. While in prison, he discovered other Christians in prison for their faith in Saudi Arabia. O’Connor was physically mistreated and pressed to convert to Islam, then released unconditionally from prison after seven months and deported.


3. Vietnam


New to third place is Vietnam, rising one position. One of the few communist nations in the world, Vietnam considers Christians to be a hidden enemy. Authorities fear that Evangelical Christianity, suspected to be connected to the United States, is being used in a peaceful revolution against the communist system. Although the constitution provides for religious freedom, the government considerably restricts unrecognized religious activities. A new law on religion was introduced during the past year and bans any religious activity deemed to threaten national security, public order or national unity. The new ordinance was also used to prohibit unregistered church services in private houses. More than 100 Christians -- mainly from a tribal background -- were imprisoned. Many were forced to renounce their faith. During Easter, hundreds of ethnic minority Montagnards were arrested or injured and an unknown number killed in demonstrations against religious oppression and confiscation of tribal lands in Dak Lak province. Though the demonstrations resulted from a larger Montagnard issue and cannot be attributed solely to Christian repression, they probably brought additional repression to minority Christians.


4. Laos


Laos’ constitution provides for religious freedom in this Southeast Asian country. However, the absence of rule of law and specific regulation on religious matters allows local officials to interpret and implement the constitutional provisions as they choose. Article 9, for instance, discourages all acts that create divisions among religions and persons, and officials use it to prohibit evangelizing and to discourage religious conversions. Decree 92 on religious practice requires that almost all aspects of religious practice be approved by the authorities. During the past few years, religious conditions have improved slightly for Protestant Christians, although intolerance continued in some areas. Several Christians were arrested and accused of engaging in illegal church activities outside of their church premises because they didn’t have an official permit to travel outside of their villages. They were also accused of speaking negatively about the government. Some local officers have threatened to kill believers if they do not renounce their faith.


5. Iran


Islam is the official religion in Iran, and all laws and regulations must be consistent with the official interpretation of sharia law. Because conservative parties were victorious in the elections (at the beginning of 2004), religious freedom further deteriorated. Although Christians belong to one of the recognized religious minorities who are guaranteed religious freedom, they have reported imprisonment, harassment and discrimination because of their faith. Iranian authorities have banned the Bible and closed down Protestant churches that accept worshippers from an Islamic background. Hundreds of Christian converts were arrested throughout the year. Iranian Christians considered the detention of 85 Christian pastors in September to be the biggest crisis in 10 years. Most of the prisoners have been released, but many reported they received severe beatings and threats in jail. A former army colonel was sentenced to three years in prison for hiding his Christian faith, despite documented proof that the army knew he had become a Christian before he was ever given officer rank. There is a risk that he will be charged before a sharia court. In sharia legislation, apostasy is punishable by death.


6. Maldives


In the archipelago of the Maldives, Islam is the official state religion and all citizens must be Muslims. Sharia law is observed, which prohibits the conversion from Islam to another religion. A convert could lose citizenship as a result. It is prohibited to practice any other religion than Islam, which is considered to be an important tool in stimulating national unity and maintenance of the government’s power. Hence it is impossible to open any churches, though foreigners are allowed to practice their religion in private if they don’t encourage citizens to participate. The Bible and other Christian materials cannot be imported apart from a copy for personal use. In the country -- one of the least evangelized countries on earth, -- there are only a handful indigenous believers who live their faith in complete secrecy. The lack of respect for religious freedom in the Maldives remained the same during 2004.


7. Somalia


The eastern African country of Somalia is new in the top ten. Less than one percent of ethnic Somalis are Christian, practicing their faith in secret. Having no central government, the country lacks a constitution or other national laws to protect religious freedom. Islam is the official religion and social pressure is strong to respect Islamic tradition, especially in certain rural parts of the country. Somali Christians indicated that they face heavy pressure to join Islam. During 2004, several Christian converts from Islam reported physical assaults due to their new faith, and some had to escape to other villages. In those regions, even the possession of a Bible can lead to a dangerous situation. Three converts were killed by fundamentalist Muslims because of their beliefs. There is a saying that a Christian Somali is a dead Somali -- when discovered, they risk immediate death.


8. Bhutan


Mahayana Buddhism is the state religion in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Officially, the Christian faith does not exist and Christians are not allowed to pray or celebrate in public. Priests are denied visas to enter the country. Christians are being deprived of their rights, such as children’s education, government jobs and setting up private businesses. Society exerts strong pressure to comply with Buddhist norms. During Easter, three house churches were raided by the police. The church members were warned not to gather for worship and told that the government considered their meetings to be “terrorist activities.” The import of printed religious matter is restricted, and only Buddhist religious texts are allowed in the country. The lack of respect for religious freedom did not change during 2004.


9. China


During 2004, China’s government increased control of religious activities, further restricting them. Three internal directives were issued, aimed at the suppression of conversion of Communist Party members, the growth of religion and religious organizations across the country and the increase of religious activity on university campuses. The government wants Marxist atheism research propaganda and education to be further strengthened. Local Christians reported intimidation, harassment and detention of believers. Several mass arrests took place in which hundreds of unregistered Christians were detained. A Christian woman was beaten to death in custody for handing out Christian tracts. However, the number of believers in both registered and unregistered churches continued to grow.



10. Afghanistan


Afghanistan is back in the top ten. Religious freedom for Christians deteriorated mostly because of the influence of Islamic extremists. During 2004, five Afghan Christian converts were killed for abandoning Islam and spreading their new faith. Some parts of the country, mainly in the south and east, are still under the influence of the Taliban. Afghanistan’s new provisional constitution does not provide sufficiently for religious freedom. The document stipulates that the country is an Islamic republic. Followers of other religions are free to practice their religion provided that these practices are within the limits of the provisions of the law and that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” This clause basically gives the official and unofficial religious leaders the right to question every action that they might consider contrary to their beliefs. Blasphemy and apostasy still fall under sharia law and are officially punishable by death. Christian converts face social discrimination and threats.



Countries Where the Situation Deteriorated


Apart from Somalia and Afghanistan, the status of religious freedom deteriorated in Iraq, Eritrea and Ethiopia.


Whereas Christians enjoy more political liberties than before in Iraq, they are experiencing considerable pressure from fundamentalist groups. Written threats, kidnappings, bombings and murder by Muslim extremists continued to drive tens of thousands of the minority Christian population out of the country. Several churches were bombed in 2004 and many were injured or killed. In some parts of the country, Christian women are forced to cover their heads. The general insecurity allows crimes such as killings, rapes and property confiscations to remain unpunished. Religious minorities are the main victims of this lawlessness and unrest. At the beginning of 2004, the draft constitution was agreed upon. It recognizes Islam as a source of legislation and specified “no law can contradict the universally agreed tenets of Islam.” The vague wording of this provision could lead to clerics holding veto power over the legislative body in determining what is Islamically correct.


The year 2004 saw a wave of arrests of evangelical believers in Eritrea. More than 400 Protestant Christians are currently imprisoned for their beliefs, a clear increase compared to the previous year. The believers suffered severe punishment and were locked in metal shipping containers. Many were put under pressure to renounce their faith. The only authorized religions recognized by the state are Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran and Islam. A new phenomenon last year was the arrest of Catholics, who are officially recognized.


Although the constitution of Ethiopia provides for freedom of religion, local Christians feel the government controls this freedom. Evangelical believers are not recognized and they report their churches are monitored. Christians experience the most opposition from local authorities and radical Muslims in majority Islamic regions. A number of believers have been imprisoned or have remained in hiding throughout the year because of their faith. Christians from an Islamic background are often fiercely persecuted by family members. Not only are they ostracized from the community, but they also face threats and attacks.



Countries Where the Situation Improved


The situation for Christians improved to different extents in Sudan, Colombia, Myanmar, Algeria, Turkey and Qatar.


After 21 years of devastating civil war, which claimed the lives of two million people, Christians in Sudan are cautiously hopeful for the new peace deal. Under the accords, the mostly Christian and animist South will remain autonomous for six years. Subsequently, there will be a referendum on independence from the largely Muslim North. Local church leaders expect the agreement will mean a lot to the Christians in Sudan. They expect to begin to enjoy access to food, water, shelter, medicines and clothing, which they were denied before. Also, as far as we could verify, fewer Christians were killed or physically harmed during 2004 than in the previous year.


Whereas the status of religious freedom did not change significantly in the conflict areas of Colombia, the ranking dropped because fewer Christians were reportedly killed or physically harmed compared to the previous year. Nevertheless, believers in rebel-occupied areas continue to live under pressure and amidst violence, partly because of their faith, although this is not easy to discern. The national army and guerrilla factions accuse believers of being allied with the rival group, although the church holds strong to its non-violence convictions. Guerrilla groups are also blaming the church for discouraging local youth from joining the insurgency. Pastors are kidnapped for money, and many live under threats of kidnapping. Evangelical families are among the thousands of persons displaced by fighting, and believers are killed in bomb explosions.


During 2004, we were able to collect more information on Myanmar during field trips. This information disclosed that religious freedom is less fierce than previously estimated. However, Christian believers still face church closures, major difficulties in registration, prohibition of construction of church buildings, and discrimination in the workplace.


There is an indication of slight improvement in the situation of Christians in Algeria. Threats against churches by Islamists continued, but they remained without repercussions. According to our staff, Algerians are increasingly getting used to the presence of Christians -- even indigenous believers -- and are tolerating them more and more. The indigenous church is growing, and they are able to gather openly with little interference from the authorities. Generally, the government does not interfere in the activities of non-Islamic religions. However, by law it is still prohibited to gather to practice a faith other than Islam, and non-Islamic evangelizing is illegal. Converts from Muslim backgrounds often face strong social pressure, especially from family and neighbors.


The status of religious freedom for Christians in Turkey improved to some extent. Legislation for religious freedom was somewhat accommodated to European Union laws. A Turkish pastor was acquitted of criminal charges for opening an “illegal” church due to the recent reforms. At the end of the year, formal approval was granted for his church -- the first new Protestant church to be built since the founding of the Turkish republic. Small Protestant congregations have often struggled against police and court harassments during the past 10 years. A Turkish TV producer was even sentenced to almost two years in jail for airing false provocations against Turkish Protestants. According to our local contact, the improvement is not really defined in most formal laws or accepted in the minds of the people.


The Gulf state of Qatar enacted its first constitution in 2004, guaranteeing freedom of expression, assembly and religion. Also, five Christian communities were allowed to begin construction of new churches. The Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Anglican and Protestant churches will be the first Christian churches in the country since the seventh century. Before the new constitution was adopted, the Christian communities in the country were illegal but tolerated.

[1] Muslim republics of the Russian Federation: Chechnya, Kabardino Balkarya, Dagestan and Tatarstan

[2] Southern Mexican state of Chiapas


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