A two-year-old along with his entire family were sentenced to political life imprisonment after North Korean officials found a Bible in their possession, the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report 2022 found, documenting the regime’s crackdown on people having religious beliefs.
The report provided estimated figures on religious persecution, stating that approximately 70,000 Christians, as well as individuals from other faiths, are imprisoned in North Korea.
“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,” António Guterres, the United Nationa’s (U.N) secretary-general said in the report outlining liberty religious atrocities that have occurred in North Korea in the past years.
The U.N said that the COVID-19 restriction on travel reduced information about religious persecution conditions, making details about cases of abuse difficult to verify. The State Department said that they eventually confirmed the details from the report from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights groups, and the U.N.
The report noted that a few registered institution, including churches, existed in the cut-off country-especially in the capital of Pyongyang. However, visitors reported that the church “operated under tight state control and functioned largely as showpieces for foreigners.”
The Department of State said that the scope and quantity of underground, or secret, churches remained difficult to quantify due to the government forbidding private religious activity.
Defectors told officials that the North Korean government encourages citizens to report anyone engaged in unauthorized religious activities or if they own any religious materials-like Bibles. The defectors shared that Christians often hide their religious activities from family members, neighbors, coworkers, and others due to fear of being branded as disloyal to the North Korean government and reported to authorities.
In October 2021, Korea Future released a report based on interviews with 244 victims of religious freedom abuses.
Of these, 150 adhered to Shamanism, 91 adhered to Christianity, one to Cheondoism, and one to other beliefs. The victims ranged in age from two to more than 80 years old. Women and girls accounted for more than 70 percent of documented victims.
According to the report, the government charged individuals with engaging in religious practices, conducting religious activities in China, possessing religious items, having contact with religious persons, and sharing religious beliefs.
Individuals were subject to arrest, detention, forced labor, torture, denial of a fair trial, public execution and sexual violence.
One of the incidents highlighted was the 2009 imprisonment of a family based on their religious practices and possession of a Bible. The entire family, including the two-year-child, were given life sentences in prison camps.
Another incident from the NGO Korea Future reported a shocking incident where a man caught praying and nearly beaten to death by guards. Another incident involved a Korean Worker’s Party member who was found with a Bible, taken by authorities out to an airfield, and executed before thousands of people.
Christians described the horrific conditions of North Korean prison camps include extreme malnutrition, forced feeding of contaminated food, verbal and physical abuse and execution.
One NGO, Open Doors USA (ODUSA), has reported that for Christians in North Korea, life is a “constant cauldron of pressure” and “capture or death is only a mistake away.”
Christians, ODUSA reported, are regarded as the lowest in society and are constantly “vulnerable and in danger.”
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