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Saturday, March 24, 2012

On the Watch for Religious Persecutors

Open Doors has released its World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians worldwide.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, said Thomas Jefferson, and that includes religious freedom. Religious persecution is tragically common abroad.

While members of all faiths are sometimes at risk somewhere, Christians are constantly victimized almost everywhere. And in many of these cases the threat is violence, imprisonment, and even death. Martyrdom apparently is more common today than during Roman times.

The California-based group Open Doors has released its latest World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians around the globe. A Baker's Dozen are communist or former communist states, led by North Korea. An incredible 38 are Muslim, including several of Washington's allies. (Seven are both communist/former communist and Islamic, truly a toxic combination.) The other six are a potpourri -- Hindu India, Buddhist Burma and Bhutan, conflict-ridden Colombia, and Eritrea and Ethiopia, which are both repressive and religiously divided.

Topping the World Watch List is the so-called Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which leads any parade of the world's repressive, impoverished, or just plain awful places. Explains Open Doors: "Defiantly Communist in the Stalinist style, a bizarre quasi-religion was built around the founder of the country, Kim Il Sung. Anyone with 'another god' is automatically persecuted, which is why the 200,000-400,000 Christians in this country must remain deeply underground." At least a quarter of them may be confined to labor camps.

Number two is Afghanistan, where Americans and Europeans continue to die trying to create a Western-style liberal democracy. The status of Christians continues to decline. Reports Open Doors: "Despite having signed all international agreements designed to protect the freedom of religion, the government in the current setting is not even able to guarantee the most basic tenants of this right." To the contrary, mobs cheerfully murder Americans and other non-Muslims when copies of the Koran are accidentally burned.

Another "friend" of Washington, Saudi Arabia, is number three. "Religious freedom does not exist in this heartland of Islam where citizens are only allowed to adhere to one religion," notes Open Doors: "Apostasy -- conversion to another religion -- is punishable by death if the accused does not recant." Of course, the Saudi royals live licentiously when abroad while posing as defenders of Islam at home.

Fourth is Somalia, another Muslim land. This area no longer constitutes a traditional nation. Alas, says Open Doors, "The overall persecution situation in Somalia tightened a bit more in the country. The main persecution engine is Islamic extremism."

Iran, most in the news over fears that it might be developing nuclear weapons, ranks number five. "Religious persecution of certain minorities has intensified in Iran since 2005," concludes Open Doors, including of Baha'is, Sufi Muslims, and Christians. Indeed, the group adds, "almost all Christian activity is illegal, especially when it occurs in Persian languages." The regime has publicly denounced the expansion of Christianity, which it blamed on "the enemies of Islam."

The Maldives comes next at six, a small island nation which simply bans other faiths. States Open Doors: "As every Maldivian citizen has to be Muslim, all deviant religious convictions are strictly forbidden." Believers must "practice their faith in utmost secrecy, always in fear of being discovered."

Number seven is Uzbekistan, where "All activities of unregistered churches are strictly forbidden, both inside and outside the churches. Youth activities are forbidden, outreaches are forbidden, seminars and training are forbidden." Uzbekistan is a Muslim state that spent seven decades under Communism, a tragic mix almost guaranteeing religious persecution.

Also in the news is Yemen, which falls to eight on the World Watch List. Reports Open Doors: "Islam is the state religion and sharia is the source of all legislation. There is some religious freedom for foreigners, but evangelism is prohibited; several expatriate workers were deported in the past for Christian activities. Yemenis who leave Islam may face the death penalty as a result."

Persecutor number nine is Iraq, a nation nominally liberated with American blood. Unfortunately, the U.S. invasion unleashed civil chaos and conflict which may have consumed 200,000 lives. The Christian community ended up as collateral damage. Explains Open Doors: "A true exodus of Christians is going on in Iraq. Christians are fleeing the country." And for good reason: "Christian individuals are still being threatened, robbed, raped, or kidnapped and churches attacked." Moreover, the situation is deteriorating even in Kurdistan, which until recently had been relatively safe for Christians.

Another not-so-loyal ally, Pakistan, rounds out the negative top ten. "Christians are a beleaguered minority… caught between Islamic militant organizations that routinely target Christians for violence, and an Islamizing culture that makes Christians feel less and less a part of Pakistan," says Open Doors.

In eleventh place is Eritrea, a religiously mixed state ruled by one of the most viciously repressive governments in the world. Reports Open Doors: "Christians from the evangelical minority are pressurized to change or renounced their religion. They are tortured and forced to revert to the registered denominations. While no Christian has been killed in the last year, five Christians died in prison due to illness."

Next at twelve comes backward Laos, still ruled by communists in a world in which communism has been largely relegated to academia, requires registration of religious groups, which are then controlled. Open Doors explains that "Other small independent Protestant congregations are under pressure and have been refused recognition. The activities of unrecognized churches are considered illegal by authorities, who detain and arrest their members and leaders under various pretexts."

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