North Korea has once again been cited as the nation where Christians suffer the most extreme persecution — but at least 49 other countries persecute Christians to some extent, according to a new report.
Open Doors USA has released its 2013 World Watch List ranking 50 nations where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is worst.
Open Doors USA states that it "works in the world's most oppressive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ's light in these dark places."
For the World Watch List, the focus is on persecution of Christians "for their faith, not persecution for political, economic, social, ethnic or accidental reasons."
North Korea is No. 1 among those nations cited for "extreme persecution," the position it held on last year's list. Open Doors estimates that 50,000 to 70,000 North Korean Christians are currently held in prison camps, where many are tortured.
Saudi Arabia is No. 2; last year it held the No. 3 spot. Non-Muslim public worship is prohibited in the kingdom, and conversion from Islam to another faith is punishable by death.
Afghanistan moves from No. 2 to third. Christian converts there face intimidation, beatings, loss of employment, even prison, according to Open Doors.
Iraq, which was in ninth place last year, is now No. 4, Somalia moves from fourth to fifth, and Maldives remains at No. 6.
Other nations cited for "extreme persecution" are Mali, Iran, Yemen, Eritrea, and Syria.
Of the 12 nations that Open Doors asserts are guilty of "severe persecution," eight are overwhelmingly Muslim countries. That group also includes Nigeria — where Muslims constitute approximately half the population — Ethiopia, Laos, and Vietnam.
Notable among the 23 nations cited for "moderate persecution" are Egypt, India, China, Kenya, and Colombia.
Syria constitutes the most ominous change in rankings, moving from No. 36 last year to No. 11 on the new list. The biggest improvements came in Comoros, which went from No. 24 to 41, and China, which went from 21 to 37.