A recent report by the U.S. State Department has shed light on the horrifying reality faced by Christians in North Korea. The report reveals that individuals found in possession of a Bible face the death penalty, while their family members, including children, are sentenced to life imprisonment. The report highlights the heartbreaking case of a 2-year-old child who was sentenced to life in prison simply because his parents were caught with a Bible.
An estimated 70,000 Christians currently languish in North Korean prisons, enduring harsh conditions and physical mistreatment.
According to the State Department’s 2022 International Religious Freedom Report, the Ministry of State Security in North Korea is responsible for 90% of the documented human rights abuses against Christians and practitioners of Shamanism.
The report highlights the severe persecution inflicted by the North Korean government on those who practice religious rituals, own religious items, or associate with religious individuals. Punishments for these acts range from arrest, detention, and torture to forced labor, deportation, and even denial of the right to life.
Korea Future, a nonprofit organization dedicated to human rights in North Korea, supports these findings. They report rampant abuse of religious freedoms, including forced labor, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, torture, and deportation, as the most common forms of maltreatment faced by Christians. The organization’s 2021 report, based on interviews with 151 Christian women, reveals the appalling extent of the persecution endured by believers.
Educational materials in North Korea further contribute to the hostility towards religion. Escapees from the country recount textbooks that contain sections depicting Christian missionaries as perpetrators of “evil deeds,” such as rape, organ harvesting, and murder. These false narratives serve to demonize Christians and fuel the ongoing persecution they face.
Despite North Korea’s constitution supposedly guaranteeing religious freedom, the State Department’s report exposes the churches constructed in Pyongyang as mere “showpieces for foreigners.” These institutions are used to create an illusion of religious tolerance, while the true reality faced by Christians remains one of repression and discrimination.
The discrimination is not limited to Christians alone but extends to followers of Shamanism as well. The report reveals that practitioners of this indigenous faith can face several months to several years in forced labor camps or reeducation facilities. The firsthand accounts of survivors paint a harrowing picture of physical abuse, malnutrition, consumption of contaminated food, prolonged periods of uncomfortable positions, and verbal harassment.
The international community must take immediate action to address the gross human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime. The United States, alongside other nations, co-sponsored a United Nations resolution condemning the systematic violations of human rights in North Korea, including the summary execution of individuals exercising their freedom of religion or belief.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2021 report further underscores the extent of the campaign to eradicate Christianity in North Korea. Religious freedom violations in the country are seemingly designed to erase all traces of Christianity through the work of the Ministry of State Security, networks of informants, political prison camps, and an educational and organizational system that deters adherence to the faith.
The freedoms of North Korean citizens are subordinate to the Ten Principles for Establishing a Monolithic Leadership System, a document that aims to align thoughts and actions with the teachings of the Kim dynasty. Christianity has consistently faced severe persecution in North Korea, and the country consistently ranks as the worst in the world for Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.