Open Doors, a non-denominational Christian group, listed North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan as the three toughest countries for Christians last year. They topped the 50-country ranking for 2011 as well.

Syria jumped from 36th to 11th place on the list as its Christian minority, first suspected by rebels of close ties to the Assad government, has increasingly become a target for radical Islamist fighters, the report said.

Ethiopia, which is two-thirds Christian, shot up from 38th to 15th place in the ranking due to a "complex mix of persecution dynamics" including attacks by radical Islamists and reprisals by traditional Christians against new Protestant movements.

Mali came from no listing for 2011 to 7th place because the sharia rule the Islamist Ansar Dine group imposed on the north of the country not only brought harsh punishments for the Muslim majority but also drove the tiny Christian minority, it said.