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North Korea still tops countries where Christians face most persecution

Bronze sculptures of North Korean despots Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. (Photo by Piu Piu/

For the 20th straight year, North Korea topped 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution and discrimination for their faith.

The Christian watchdog organization Open Doors reported that the coronavirus pandemic has helped expose religious persecution in a number of countries.

In its World Watch List 2021 report released this week, the organization noted that North Korean Christians continue to face “extreme persecution” in every element of their public and private lives.

The report ranks countries by the severity of persecution, calculated by analyzing the level of violence plus the pressure experienced in five spheres of life: private, family, community, church and national.

“Being discovered as a Christian in North Korea is a death sentence,” read the report.

“Those who aren’t killed instantly are taken to labor camps with other political prisoners where few survive the horrific conditions,” it added.

The report said an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned in North Korea. 

It tags the state as the “main driver” of persecution in North Korea in the form of government and the official Workers Party of Korea.

“For three generations, everything in the country has focused on revering the Kim family leaders,” read the report, adding that the highest goal of all authorities is the “survival of the country and its leader.”

The report said the Workers Party has become a tool with which Kim Jong-Un has tightened his grip on North Korea.

The party’s ideology regards Christians as enemies and portrays them as terrorists, said the report. Christians are seen as hostile to society that must be eradicated.

Global persecutions continue

Open Doors noted that persecutions of Christians around the world has continued to rise for 14 years, adding that across the top 50 countries, “pressure is rising.”

The report noted that the total points of the top 50 have gone up “and the threshold to get into the top 50 has risen again in 2021.”

The Open Doors World Watch List is an annual report that ranks the countries where Christians are reportedly persecuted and experienced discrimination.

More than 340 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith in the past year, or one in eight Christians worldwide.

In the top 50 countries alone of the Open Doors report, 309 million Christians suffer very high or extreme levels of persecution and discrimination.

In India, the Christian watchdog said 80 percent of Christians who received pandemic aid from its partner organizations reported they were turned away from other food distribution points because of their faith. Others reportedly claimed they had been passed over for employment.

India is No. 10 in Open Doors’ ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.

Other hot spots where Christians face discrimination while seeking COVID-19 relief include Myanmar, Nepal, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Central Asia, Malaysia, North Africa, Yemen and Sudan, according to the report.

“The global pandemic made persecution more obvious than ever — simply because so many people needed help,” according to the Open Doors’ report.

“The clear discrimination and oppression suffered by Christians in 2020 must not be forgotten, even after the COVID-19 crisis fades into our collective memory,” it added.

The rest of the top 10 lineup remains largely unchanged from last year, with Sudan dropping off the list and Nigeria appearing at No. 9.

More Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country, according to Open Doors. The organization blames violent attacks by Islamic extremist groups like Boko Haram and the Fulani.

Included in the top 10 countries where Open Doors reports Christians face the most persecution are:

(1) North Korea

(2) Afghanistan

(3) Somalia

(4) Libya

(5) Pakistan

(6) Eritrea

(7) Yemen

(8) Iran

(9) Nigeria

(10) India

Most of the countries in the top 10 have been there since 2015, which, at the time, Open Doors proclaimed to be the “worst year in modern history for Christian persecution.”

China entered Open Doors’ top 20 for the first time in a decade for its increasing surveillance and censorship of Christians and other religious minorities, according to the report.

Last year, Open Doors raised the alarm over the “rise of the surveillance state” and its impact on Christians and Uighur Muslims in the country.

Open Doors defines persecution as “any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions toward Christians.” -


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.