WASHINGTON (BP)

–An organization that serves the persecuted church again has rated North Korea as the worst oppressor of Christians. It was the eighth consecutive year that Open Doors gave the Asian regime the top ranking, this time 25 points ahead of Iran, the No. 2-rated country.

Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of the world’s population live in countries with high restrictions on religion, according to a report by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life titled Global Restrictions on Religion.

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion people reside in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion, the Pew Forum reported. Although only 64 of the 198 countries or territories studied have those levels of restrictions (32 percent), they contain the large majority of the world’s population.

In the government restrictions ratings, the countries that scored “very high,” or in the top 5 percent of the scores, were, in descending order, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Egypt, Burma, Maldives, Eritrea, Malaysia and Brunei.

The countries that ranked “very high” in social hostilities were, in descending order, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Somalia, Israel, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

In rankings by region, the Middle East-North Africa had the highest scores in both government restrictions on and social hostilities toward religion, while the Americas were the least restrictive in both indexes.

Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and India were the most restrictive among the world’s 25 most populous countries when both categories are considered. Meanwhile, the least restrictive of the 25 most populous countries were Brazil, Japan, the United States, Italy, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

“There is no other country in the world where Christians are persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner,” Carl Moeller said in a Jan. 6 news release from Open Doors. “Three generations of a family are often thrown into prison when one member is incarcerated.”

The regime of dictator Kim Jong-Il has an estimated 200,000 political prisoners, including 40,000 to 60,000 Christians, according to Open Doors.

Despite the repression, “the number of Christians in North Korea has grown in the last 10 years,” Moeller said.

According to Open Doors, the 10 countries where persecution of Christians is worst, with scores in parentheses, are North Korea (90.5), Iran (65.5), Saudi Arabia (63.5), Somalia (62.5), Maldives (62.0), Afghanistan (61.5), Yemen (60.5), Mauritania (59.5), Laos (56.0) and Uzbekistan (56.0).

Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.