According to the 2022 International Religious Freedom Report by the US State Department, a whole family, including a two-year-old child, received a political life sentence in North Korea due to the discovery of a Bible in their possession. The report documents the government’s severe actions against individuals who hold religious beliefs and highlights the regime’s crackdown. It also presents an estimate of around 70,000 individuals, including Christians and followers of other religions, who are currently incarcerated in North Korea as a result of religious persecution.
In the report that outlines the religious atrocities in North Korea over the past years, António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (U.N), expressed his views on the matter. “The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion [in the DPRK] also continues to be denied, with no alternative belief systems tolerated by the authorities.”
According to the United Nations (U.N), the imposition of COVID-19 travel restrictions has limited access to information regarding the conditions of religious persecution, making it challenging to verify specific instances of abuse. The U.S. State Department confirmed the information in the report through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights groups, and the U.N.
A 2-year-old toddler in North Korea has been jailed for life after their parents were found with a Bible pic.twitter.com/HJwLTK4XJa
— Daily Loud (@DailyLoud) May 26, 2023
The report highlighted that a small number of registered institutions, such as churches, existed in North Korea, primarily concentrated in the capital city of Pyongyang. However, visitors reported that these churches operated under strict state control and mainly served as showcases for foreign visitors rather than functioning as genuine religious institutions.
The Department of State stated that it is challenging to determine the extent and number of underground or secret churches in North Korea due to the government’s prohibition of private religious activities.
According to defectors’ accounts, the North Korean government actively encourages citizens to report individuals involved in unauthorized religious activities or possessing religious materials, such as Bibles. Christians often conceal their religious practices from family members, neighbors, coworkers, and others out of fear of being labeled disloyal to the North Korean government and reported to the authorities.
In October 2021, Korea Future published a report based on interviews conducted with 244 victims who experienced violations of religious freedom. Among these victims, 150 practiced Shamanism, 91 followed Christianity, one adhered to Cheondoism, and one had other beliefs. The victims’ ages ranged from two years old to over 80 years old, with women and girls accounting for more than 70 percent of the documented cases.
As per the report, the North Korean government has charged individuals with various offenses related to religious practices, including engaging in religious activities in China, possessing religious items, maintaining contact with religious individuals, and sharing religious beliefs. These charges have resulted in severe consequences for individuals, including arrest, detention, forced labor, torture, denial of fair trials, public executions, and sexual violence.
The report highlighted a specific incident that occurred in 2009, where a family was imprisoned solely based on their religious practices and possession of a Bible. The entire family, including a two-year-old child, received life sentences in prison camps.
Another incident documented by the NGO Korea Future described a horrifying situation in which a man was severely beaten by guards after being caught praying. Additionally, a member of the Korean Worker’s Party was executed in front of a large audience after being found with a Bible at an airfield.
Christian prisoners in North Korean camps have described appalling conditions, including extreme malnutrition, forced consumption of contaminated food, verbal and physical abuse, and execution.
According to Open Doors USA (ODUSA), a non-governmental organization, Christians in North Korea face constant pressure, and the risk of capture or death is always present, often regarding them as the lowest members of society and exposing them to constant vulnerability and danger.