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North Korea’s Secret Christians

Persecution of Christians in North Korea: although little news escapes the government’s iron grip, it is abundantly established that North Korea is arguably the most dangerous place on earth for Christians. The U.S. State Department has placed North Korea on its list of countries that violate religious freedom every year since 2001. And as this article notes, “in its 2020 Annual Report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) outlined the situation in greater depth: ‘There are no formally registered, independent houses of worship in North Korea. The government has established several state-sponsored religious organizations and permits five churches to operate in Pyongyang. However, human rights groups and defectors from the country allege that these institutions exist merely to provide the illusion of religious freedom.'”

Christians in North Korea are called upon to have the faith and perseverance of the saints and martyrs. There is or was at least one Orthodox parish in North Korea, the Church of the Life-Giving Trinity in Pyongyang, but its present status is unclear. Please continue to beseech Almighty God for peace and security for the Orthodox Christians and all Christians of North Korea.

For more ChristianPersecution.com coverage of the persecution of Christians in North Korea, see here.

“North Korea’s Secret Christians,” by Linda Burkle, International Christian Concern, July 20, 2020:

Several years ago, on two different occasions, I had the opportunity to worship at Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea. With about 480,000 members, it is the considered to be the largest Christian church in the world. Many travelers from other nations come to worship there and translation equipment is available in a variety of languages.  As a thriving modern nation with fundamental freedoms enjoyed by its citizens, South Korea provides a sharp contrast to its sister country, North Korea. South Koreans with whom I spoke expressed profound concern for their loved ones living in North Korea under Chairman Kim Jong-un’s harsh communist regime. They shared how communication with family members is severely restricted and closely monitored. They long for the day when Korea is once again united as a country where religious freedom flourishes.

Although North Korea’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in reality it functions as a totalitarian regime. Driven by a paranoid tyrannical leader, persecution pervades every aspect of civic, social, family, and private life. While formally North Korea is an atheistic country, its constitution nominally grants freedom of religious belief, but prohibits the use of religion for “drawing in foreign forces or for harming the State.” According to the document, “The government treats religion as a threat to the state-propagated ideology known as Juche, which preaches ‘self-reliance and self-development.”

Under North Korea’s songbun system, citizens are classified based on their perceived loyalty to the state. Religious practitioners belong to the “hostile” class, which limits their access to educational and employment opportunities, as well as other state benefits.  North Korea has a network of prison camps (kyohwaso) and labor training camps (rodongdanryondae) to house an estimated 80,000–120,000 prisoners of conscience and other citizens declared “enemies of the state.” Experts estimate that tens of thousands of these prisoners are Christians, the majority of whom were arrested by the Ministry of State Security because they possessed a Bible.

Christians are particularly vulnerable for targeting because they are viewed as having ties with Western countries, and thus posing a threat of foreign infiltration. Even family members often must keep their faith secret from one another for fear of discovery. Fellowship with other believers in group worship poses too great a risk.

In its 2020 Annual Report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) outlined the situation in greater depth: “There are no formally registered, independent houses of worship in North Korea. The government has established several state-sponsored religious organizations and permits five churches to operate in Pyongyang. However, human rights groups and defectors from the country allege that these institutions exist merely to provide the illusion of religious freedom.’’

Anyone caught practicing religion or even suspected of harboring religious views in private is subject to severe punishment, including arrest, torture, imprisonment, and execution. The possession and distribution of religious texts remains a criminal offense under North Korean law, so proselytization is impossible. Being found with mere pages of a Bible could result in immediate death or imprisonment in one of the terrible prison or labor camps where slave labor, torture, deprivation, and death are commonplace. Despite these realities, it is estimated that there are 200,000 to 400,000 “secret” Christians in North Korea.

Numerous NGOs monitoring persecution have identified North Korea as the most egregious country for persecution of Christians. These organizations include Amnesty International, Aid to the Church in Need, Human Rights Watch and Open Doors, among others. In particular, Human Rights Watch describes North Korea as “one of the world’s most repressive states… [where] [t]he government restricts all civil, and political liberties, including freedom of expression, assembly, association and religion.” While conditions are harsh and restrictive for all North Koreans, daily life is particularly dangerous for Christians, who are viewed as having Western influence. According to one report published by Open Doors. at least 200,000 Christians have gone missing. The most recent Open Doors 2020 World Watch List once again rates North Korea number one for persecution of Christians and others who pose a threat to the strict communist totalitarian system of government….

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