A US State Department report has found that Christians in North Korea who are caught with a Bible face the death penalty, and their families, including children, are sentenced to life imprisonment.
The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2022 estimates that as many as 70,000 Christians are imprisoned in North Korea, along with people from other faiths. The report claims that among the many sent to prison was a two-year-old who was reportedly sentenced to life after his parents were found in possession of a Bible.
The family was arrested for their religious practices and possession of a Bible. The entire family, including a two-year-old, was sentenced to life in a political prison camp in 2009. Christians who have been imprisoned in these camps have described dire conditions and various forms of physical mistreatment. The report stated that the Ministry of State Security was responsible for 90% of documented human rights abuses against both Shamanic adherents and Christians.
The State Department, citing a report by Korea Future, a non-profit organisation “working to accelerate justice and support accountability” in North Korea, says the North Korean government persecutes individuals who engage in religious practices, possess religious items, have contact with religious persons, or share religious beliefs. Individuals who are persecuted may be arrested, detained, forced to work, tortured, denied a fair trial, deported, denied the right to life, or subjected to sexual violence.
In December 2021, Korea Future released a report that documented the abuse of religious freedom against women in North Korea. The report was based on interviews with 151 Christian women who had experienced abuse. The report found that the most common forms of abuse were arbitrary detention, torture, deportation, forced labor, and sexual violence.
Multiple people who had fled North Korea described textbooks that included sections on Christian missionaries. The textbooks listed a number of “evil deeds” that the missionaries were said to have committed, “including rape, blood-sucking, organ harvesting, murder, and espionage”. One defector told Korea Future that the government had also published graphic novels that depicted Christians luring children into churches and then taking them to the basement to draw their blood.
The United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. In December, the United States joined other countries in cosponsoring a United Nations resolution that condemned North Korea’s “long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread, and gross violations of human rights.”
The resolution also expressed “very serious concern” about abuses, including “in some instances summary executions of individuals exercising their freedom of opinion, expression, religion or belief.”