Unsurprisingly North Korea has claimed the No. 1 spot on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List -- an annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.
"With more than 50,000 people in prison or labor camps, such a ranking is little surprise for the totalitarian regime that controls every aspect of life in the country and forces worship of the Kim family," says Open Doors.
Its new report, however, reveals an alarming trend as countries driven by Islamic extremism, such as Afghanistan (No. 2), reach persecution levels rivaling those in North Korea.
Of the 50 countries on the Open Doors World Watch List, 30 saw an increase in persecution during the reporting period.
"Open Doors monitors the intensity faced by Christians around the world, and the World Watch List quantifies what we see," said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA.
"This year, as incidents of violence related to persecution have increased—especially those related to women, it is imperative we continue to advocate and call leaders to prioritize issues of religious freedom."
Open doors found that one in every 12 Christians in the world lives in an area, or in a culture, in which Christianity is illegal, forbidden or punished.
PERSECUTION WORSENS IN INDIA
North Korea topped the list for the 16th straight year in a row and the countries where persecution increased the most are Egypt, India, Libya, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkey with Nepal and Azerbaijan are newcomers to the list.
Comoros and Tanzania, however, fell off the list, while Pakistan had the most violence recorded against Christians.
Islamic extremism remains the global, dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 of the 50 countries on the list said Open Doors.
Three main trends in persecution of Christians were found by Open Doors: The Spread of Radical Islam, the Rise of Religious Nationalism and Intense Persecution in Central Asia
"Islamic oppression is one of the most widely recognized sources of persecution for Christians in the world today -- and it continues to spread -- aiming to bring many parts of the world under Sharia law," said Open Doors.
It noted that movement, which often results in Islamic militancy and persecution of Christians, is expanding in Asia (Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia) and Africa (Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia).
Regarding the Rise of Religious Nationalism, Open Doors said it stems from an effort to preserve power when insecure governments use the country's majority religion to marginalize Christians and other religious minorities.
This phenomenon has been observed in some parts of Asia with Hindu nationalism (India, Nepal) and Buddhist nationalism (Myanmar, Sri Lanka) both gaining ground.
And in it says persecution in Central Asia is on the rise in countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan -- and Azerbaijan is new to the list at #45.
"There is a grassroots revival of Islam in Central Asia, and that means more pressure from the nationalist pro-Islamic governments and within society, causing increased persecution levels on two fronts," said Open Doors.