Reports about four Christians being executed for their faith in North Korea are circulating in the Christian media.
According to Mark Kelly of Baptist Press: “The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is well-known as a country where Christians are persecuted for their faith. Because the government there keeps a tight lid on communication, however, only rarely does specific information leak out.”
Quoting the World Bible Translation Center’s Gary Bishop in a conversation with Mission Network News, Kelly reports that one man who worked as an evangelist was executed after being caught with two Korean New Testaments in his possession.
Bishop says North Korean Christians are becoming increasingly uneasy about possessing a Bible.
He said: “A man that’s known to be an evangelist. He’s probably not an evangelist to anyone other than his family members, but he was caught with two of our Korean New Testaments in his possession and he was executed for that.”
Kelly writes that Bishop also told Mission Network News: “A woman and her grandmother were washing clothes when a New Testament fell out of the woman’s clothing. Somebody reported it, and both she and her grandmother were quickly executed. And an army general who had become a believer was caught evangelizing men in his unit and was executed by a fellow officer.”
Kelly says Bishop told MNN that despite the oppression – or perhaps because of it – God seems to be working.
Bishop said: “In response to a very, very oppressive government (and) human injustices, people are looking for an answer other than their own government. And, I believe that’s awakening the resilience of believers in North Korea to say, ‘We have another answer. There is another way to believe.'”
MNN reports that thousands of North Korean Christians have been killed for their faith. Many more are in work camps.
According to Bishop, there’s no sign of the persecution easing any. “What you have is a leader who is proclaiming himself to be god. It’s prescribed that they daily worship him. And, refusal to do that and being caught worshipping God just brings that kind of governmental response. And, as best we can tell, the tempo of that is not lessening.”
Bishop says it’s obvious what that increasing pressure on Christians is doing to Bible smuggling. “It becomes more and more difficult to get a person to risk their life to carry those in to North Korea.” With rivers frozen, it’s a prefect time to smuggle Bibles into the country.
While persecution continues, World Bible Translation Center has no intention of stopping the flow of Bibles into the country. “We do need to begin reprinting and get text ready as God enables people to take those in.”
North Korea: Country in Focus
Government: Authoritarian Social
Type: Restricted Nation
According to the World Fact Book, quoted on the VOM Australia website: “Following World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Communist domination and the southern portion becoming Western oriented. Kim Jong-il has ruled North Korea since his father and the country’s founder, president Kim Il-sung, died in 1994. After decades of mismanagement, the North relies heavily on international food aid to feed its population, while continuing to expend resources to maintain an army of about 1 million. North Korea’s long-range missile development and research into nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community. In December 2002, North Korea repudiated a 1994 agreement that shut down its nuclear reactors and expelled U.N. monitors, further raising fears it would produce nuclear weapons.”
Report from United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Religious freedom remains essentially non-existent in North Korea, where the government has a policy of actively discriminating against religious believers, says the USCIRF.
The group states: “The North Korean state severely represses public and private religious activities. The Commission has received reports that officials have arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes executed North Korean citizens who were found to have ties with overseas Christian evangelical groups operating across the border in China, as well as those who engaged in unauthorized religious activities such as public religious expression and persuasion. Although access to updated information about North Korea remains limited, by all accounts, including according to testimony delivered at the Commission’s hearing on North Korea in January 2002, there has not been any improvement in the conditions for religious freedom in the past year.”
In recent years, the USICRF says, the government has formed several religious organizations that it controls for the purpose of severely restricting religious activities in the country. For example, the Korean Buddhist Federation prohibits Buddhist monks from worshipping at North Korean temples. Most of the remaining temples that have escaped government destruction since the Korean War are regarded as cultural relics rather than religious sites.
Similarly, the Korean Christian Federation restricts Christian activities. Following the reported wholesale destruction of over 1,500 churches during Kim Il-sung’s reign (1948-1994), two Protestant churches and a Roman Catholic church, without a priest, opened in Pyongyang in 1988, even though the absence of a priest for Roman Catholics means that Mass cannot be celebrated and most sacraments cannot be performed. Several foreign residents have reported that they regularly attend services at these churches and that it is clear that whatever public religious activity exists, such as services at these churches, is staged for their benefit.
The USICRF reports: “Persons found carrying Bibles in public or distributing religious literature, or engaging in unauthorized religious activities such as public religious expression and persuasion are arrested and imprisoned. There continue to be reports of torture and execution of religious believers. Although the practice of imprisoning religious believers is apparently widespread, the State Department has been unable to document fully the number of religious detainees or prisoners. According to a press report, an estimated 6,000 Christians are incarcerated in “Prison No. 15,” located in the northern part of the country.
The Commission learned from testimony at its January 2002 hearing that prisoners held on the basis of their religious beliefs are treated worse than other inmates. For example, religious prisoners, especially Christians, are reportedly given the most dangerous tasks while in prison. In addition, they are subject to constant abuse from prison officials in an effort to force them to renounce their faith. When they refuse, these religious prisoners are often beaten and sometimes tortured to death.”
The organization concludes: “Officials have stratified North Korean society on the basis of family background and perceived loyalty to the regime into 51 specific categories. Religious adherents are by definition relegated to a lower category, receiving fewer privileges and opportunities, such as education and employment, than others. Persons in lower categories have reportedly been denied food aid. Thousands of North Koreans have fled to China in recent years. Refugees who are either forcibly repatriated or captured after having voluntarily returned to the DPRK are accused of treason; those found to have had contacts with South Koreans or Christian missionaries are subjected to severe punishment, including the death penalty.” (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, as quoted on VOM Australia website).