Persecution of Christians in African countries rose greatly in 2012 due to the increasing influence of Islam, while North Korea remains the most dangerous place for Christians to live, according to the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List. The report estimated that over 100 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide.
Most of the newcomers to the annual list by Open Doors, a watchdog that monitors the persecution of Christians worldwide, were countries from Africa, including Mali (No. 7), Tanzania (No. 24), Kenya (No. 40), Uganda (47) and Niger (No. 50).
Last year, as many as 200,000 Christians from Mali fled south and to neighboring countries as Islamic supremacists moved to enforce Sharia law following a coup. The Voice of the Martyrs, another organization that aids persecuted Christians, reported that virtually the entire population of Christians in northern Mali were forced to flee.
"Mali used to be a model country," said Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra. "The situation in the north used to be a bit tense but Christians and even missionaries could be active. Currently the situation in northern Mali is somewhat similar to Saudi Arabia. Christians are simply no longer allowed to be there."
Meanwhile, African countries that were previously ranked moved up in the list, with Ethiopia rising from No. 15 to No. 38, Eritrea nudging up a spot to enter the top 10, and Libya climbed from No. 26 to No. 17.
Open Doors expressed concern for the rapidly growing influence of radical Islamic groups in Africa.
"Apart from the pattern of violent attacks, we see that radical Muslims are infiltrating into politics, business and the judicial power, such as introducing Sharia family courts. On a number of occasions, Muslims were ready to step into a power vacuum," added Dykstra.
Despite North Korea undergoing leadership changes, with Kim Jong-Un taking the reigns in the wake of his father's death, the country topped the Open Doors list as the worst persecutor of Christians for the 11th consecutive year. According to the watchdog, Christians can be executed or sent to prison for simply owning a Bible.
"Persecution of Christians has increased. Reportedly one labor camp alone could hold up to 6,000 Christians," said the Open Doors spokesman.
Open Doors noted that it changed the methodology of how it ranks countries in the 2013 World Watch List, taking into account not only the violence involved in the persecution of Christians but how the position of Christians are affected in all spheres of life (private, family, community, national and church.)
The complete 2013 World Watch List by Open Doors can be downloaded at http://www.worldwatchlist.us/ or viewed below:
1. North Korea
2. Saudi Arabia
26. United Arab Emirates
32. Myanmar (Burma)
36. Palestinian Territories