North Korea tops list of worst persecutors
GLOBAL BRIEFS | Officials use a new “anti-reactionary thought” law to suppress Christians
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The Hermit Kingdom is once again the world’s worst persecutor of Christians, according to Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List. The Christian nonprofit compiles the list using input from teams of researchers and lawyers. North Korea has topped the list for many years, only displaced last year by Afghanistan due to the Taliban takeover. North Korean Christians routinely lose jobs and face imprisonment, torture, or death if discovered. A new “anti-reactionary thought law” has increased already severe punishments. —Elizabeth Russell
Over 1 million tons of rare earth metals have been discovered in the far north of Sweden. European ministers hailed the find, announced on Jan. 12, as a breakthrough for Europe’s energy independence and transition to renewables. The term rare earth refers to 17 minerals used in multiple technologies, including mobile phones, hard drives, trains, and electric vehicles. Experts say demand for rare earths will increase fivefold by 2030. The European Union currently imports 98 percent of its supply from China. It will likely take at least 10 years for Sweden’s minerals to come to market due to environmental impact studies, according to mine CEO Jan Moström. But he urged the government to speed up the permitting process. —Jenny Lind Schmitt
Russian and Chinese warships will hold joint drills with the South African navy in February. Operation Mosi, which means smoke, is set to run Feb. 17-26 off the eastern coast, near Durban. South Africa hosted a similar drill in 2019, but this year it coincides with the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. South Africa has taken a “neutral” stance, abstaining from a United Nations vote last year that condemned the invasion. Foreign minister Naledi Pandor rejected criticism of the drills, saying such exercises are a “natural course of relations” among friends. —Onize Ohikere
United Arab Emirates
The Islamic kingdom is on track to become one of the first Arab nations to teach school children about the Holocaust. The country’s embassy in the United States announced that primary and secondary schools would use the new curriculum. The Education Ministry is working with the Israel- and London-based Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education to develop the material. Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, is also advising the UAE Culture and Youth Ministry on content sharing and development. The UAE and Israel normalized relations and signed the Abraham Accords in 2020. One year later, the UAE opened the region’s first Holocaust memorial exhibition in Dubai. —Onize Ohikere
The United Nations called for an investigation into the murder of two water rights defenders shot on Jan. 7. Family members said the killings of Aly Dominguez and Jairo Bonilla came after years of threats connected to their activism. The two men belonged to the Guapinol water defenders, a group organizing local communities to protest an open-pit iron oxide mine that threatens the local water supply. The mine is co-owned by Lenir Pérez, one of the country’s wealthiest businessmen. Local police say the activists were killed in a mugging. Critics reject that story, noting the men faced previous government attempts to intimidate them. President Xiomara Castro promised during her campaign to end violence against land and water activists. —Jenny Lind Schmitt
Insulting Muhammad, his family, or companions now carries a 1 million rupee fine ($4,350) and a 10-year prison sentence. Pakistan’s National Assembly recently passed a more stringent amendment to the already controversial Criminal Laws Bill, causing alarm for Christians and members of other minority religions. Groups that monitor global persecution say the laws are loosely defined and can be invoked out of revenge in disputes with Christians. That’s what happened to Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five. Pakistan’s supreme court acquitted her in 2018, sparking street protests and death threats against the justices responsible for her release. The law carries no punishment for false accusations. —Amy Lewis