In total, the survey found that more than 7,100 Christians were killed in 2015 for "faith-related reasons," up 3,000 from the previous year, according to the group's analysis of media reports and other public information as well as external experts. Open Door's report is independently audited by the International Institute of Religious Freedom.
Open Doors USA is an organization that works with Christians worldwide to "equip and encourage" those living under persecution while also helping churches in America advocate for the persecuted around the world.
The group's report defines Christian persecution "as any hostility experienced as a result of one's identification with Christ." Open Doors found this persecution ranged from imprisonment, torture, beheadings and rape to the loss of home and assets, the loss of a job, or even rejection from a community.
Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors, introduced the annual ranking of countries based on their severity of Christian persecution, evaluating levels of violence worldwide to formulate the global top 50. The list, now in its 25th year, is topped by North Korea for the 14th consecutive time. Curry says that "pariah states" like North Korea are especially hostile toward Christians.
According to the report, however, much of the persecution faced by Christians occurs in predominantly Muslim nations, many of which are "failed states" that fail to protect any of their citizens' religious liberty.
The presence of Islamic extremist factions across the world in 2015 brought religious persecution for not only Christians, but also Muslims, Yazidis and other religious minorities, the report found. Notably, Iraq (No. 2) and Syria (No. 5) are the epicenter of ISIS' so called "caliphate," while Afghanistan (4), Pakistan (6), Iran (9) and Libya (10) all have elements of Islamic extremism.
Curry said that while "Islamic extremism is one of the driving forces" of Christian persecution, "peace-loving Muslims can make an impact on that part of their culture."
ISIS and other extremist groups are spreading, the report highlights, not just in the Middle East but around the world. Curry said he hoped the list would bring attention to the plight of Christians across the globe as they face a "total lack of religious freedom," forced migration and even genocide.
In fact, part of the reason for the annual list, according to Curry, is to highlight for U.S. policymakers the continued persecution of Christians by our "geopolitical allies." Countries such as Saudi Arabia and India are key global partners for the United States, yet Open Doors ranks both in its top 50 of persecutors of Christians.
"We believe in religious freedom for all," Curry said, "and that does not happen in countries that we do business with every day."
Open Doors also seeks to inspire and inform Christians in America, using the annual watch list "as a clarion call to pray, advocate and remember their persecuted fellow Christians."