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Report details persecution of Christians in NKorea, toddler given life in prison
By Karah Rucker (Reporter/Producer ), Jack Aylmer (Producer )
A new report from the U.S. State Department sheds light on the ongoing religious persecution faced by Christians trapped in North Korea. Open Doors USA, an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, estimates that as many as 70,000 individuals are incarcerated in North Korea solely due to their religious beliefs.
The State Department’s report provides harrowing details about the conditions inside the prisons, with stories of religious persecution resembling those from biblical times unfolding in the present day.
A particularly disturbing case outlined in the report involves a 2-year-old child who was sentenced to life in prison simply because a Bible was found in the family’s possession. The entire family will spend the remainder of their lives in prison camps.
Another shocking incident involved a member of Kim Jong Un’s political party who was executed in front of 3,000 residents after being found in possession of a Bible. Additionally, a North Korean woman and her grandchild were executed by firing squad due to their family’s Christian beliefs.
The report also highlights the arbitrary arrest and punishment of relatives up to three generations back, irrespective of their own personal beliefs.
Open Doors characterizes Christians in North Korea as “the most dangerous political class of people,” facing intense and violent persecution. Life for Christians in the country is described as a “constant pressure cooker,” where “capture or death is only a mistake away.”
“Open Doors USA (ODUSA) estimated that authorities held 50,000 to 70,000 citizens in prison for being Christian. ODUSA stated that Christians experienced persecution that was ‘violent and intense,'” the State Department’s report added.
A report by human rights watchdog Korea Future, which was cited by the State Department, concludes that the campaign to eradicate Christian adherents and institutions in North Korea has “been brutally effective.” While estimates suggest a Christian population of anywhere between 200,000 and 400,000 people still exists in the country, all of them remain at risk of torture under the rule of the North Korean regime.
In a recent report by the Korean Institute for National Unification (KINU), concerns were raised regarding the usage of state-controlled Christian churches in North Korea for political purposes.
The report stated that the government has been employing these state-approved religious institutions as a means of “political propaganda” aimed at foreign visitors, while strictly prohibiting regular citizens from entering the facilities.
According to KINU’s 2021 report, the North Korean authorities gathered several hundred carefully selected individuals to participate in what were described as “fake church services.” These services were allegedly orchestrated to create an illusion of religious freedom and to impress foreign guests and were not accessible to ordinary citizens.
Testimonies from defectors have shed further light on the situation. In KINU’s 2019 report, one defector revealed that during his time in Pyongyang, authorities arrested individuals who were suspected of being secret Christians. These suspicions arose from behaviors such as lingering too long outside these churches to listen to the music or repeatedly driving past them each week when services were being held.
The North Korean government has previously acknowledged the existence of 500 “family worship centers” in a 2002 report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee. Although, a 2018 report, which surveyed 12,810 defectors, stated that none of them had witnessed any of these supposed home churches.
The State Department’s report also highlights the indoctrination of anti-religious views in North Korean children, starting as early as kindergarten. Children are encouraged to report any signs of Christian faith within their homes, further perpetuating the control and persecution of Christians in the country. Both the United States and the United Nations have consistently condemned North Korea’s control and mistreatment of its people, as it “remains one of the most repressive countries in the world.”
However, these condemnations have failed to loosen the regime’s grip on its extreme views regarding Christianity. In October 2020, the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights reported 1,411 cases of religious persecution by authorities, including 126 killings and 94 disappearances, based on reports of defectors from the DPRK between 2007 and July 2020, as well as other sources.
North Koreans who have managed to escape their home country have revealed the various forms of torture inflicted on tens of thousands of Christians imprisoned daily. These torturous methods include beatings, strangulation, deprivation of food, water, and sleep, hanging by the legs, and being forced into fixed positions for days on end.
Escapees have also reported being subjected to repetitive physical exercises, consuming contaminated food, and having red pepper powder forcefully poured into their nostrils. This distressing list of torture tactics only scratches the surface of the atrocities endured by victims.
Meanwhile, the number of North Koreans escaping the communist regime has seen a significant decline of 94% since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to recent reports. The pandemic presented an opportunity for dictator Kim Jong Un to reinforce border security measures, including the construction of new border walls and increased patrols, further restricting the movement of North Korean citizens.
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