(CNSNews.com) - For the sixth consecutive year, North Korea has been named the world's worst violator of religious freedom, according to a leading Christian watchdog organization.
Open Doors' 2008 "world watch list" is dominated by Muslim-majority countries, which account for 14 of the 20 most egregious persecutors; and communist nations, which make up four of the remaining six. The last two are a Buddhist monarchy and a region of Russia.
Saudi Arabia, ruled by a Sunni Wahhabist royal family, was in second place for the fifth straight year, while Shi'ite Iran was in third place for the third year in a row.
Rounding out the top ten offenders, in order, were the Maldives, Bhutan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Laos, Uzbekistan and China.
Open Doors says it ranks countries based on the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith, after putting 50 questions to contacts, religious believers and fieldworkers in the various countries.
"There is no other country in the world where Christians are being persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner," Dr. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, said of Kim Jong-il's North Korea.
The organization estimates that the reclusive Stalinist state has at least 200,000 underground Christians.
"Christianity is considered a serious threat to the regime's power and there are many reports of Christians being publicly executed, tortured or imprisoned indefinitely simply because of the discovery of their faith."
Moving up the watch list by at least two places this year were Afghanistan (from 10 in 2007 to 7), Uzbekistan (11 to 9) and China (12 to 10).
Among improving trends observed by Open Doors were the situations in Somalia, which dropped from 4 last year to 12; and Vietnam, which dropped from 8 to 17.
Seven of the top 10 countries on the Open Doors list also score badly (a grading of 6 or 7, or "not free") on the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom's latest assessment of religious freedom around the world.
One country on the Open Doors' list, Bhutan, doesn't feature on the center's rankings, and two countries, Yemen and Laos, fare somewhat better in the Hudson evaluation, scoring a "partly free" 5. (Only four countries -- the U.S., Ireland, Hungary and Estonia -- score the top grade of 1.)
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