Christians 'tortured and shot under Kim Jong Un regime', report claims

Christians ‘are tortured or shot by firing squad under Kim Jong Un’s regime, with a two-year-old sent to a prison camp because its parents owned a Bible’, US report into religious freedom claims

  • US State Department exposes cases of North Korean Christians being executed
  • It cites one estimate that up to 70,000 Christians are imprisoned for their faith

North Korea has sentenced a two-year-old to life in a prison camp after the toddler’s parents were found with a Bible.

The plight of the child, whose entire family was also jailed, was revealed in the new International Religious Freedom Report from the US State Department.

The publication also exposed multiple cases of North Koreans being killed for their Christianity, such as the execution by firing squad of a Christian woman and her grandchild in 2011.

In another case, a member of the ruling party was executed in front of an audience of 3,000 at Hyesan airfield after they were found in possession of a Bible.

Other believers faced pigeon torture, whereby they were suspended with their hands tied behind their backs, unable to sit or stand for days on end.

Worshippers at the Chilgol Protestant Church in Pyongyang. A US report has found North Koreans are being killed for their Chrisitianity

The report cites one estimate that up to 70,000 Christians are imprisoned for their faith under the Kim Jong-un regime, out of a possible population of 400,000

‘It was the most painful of all tortures,’ one victim recalled. ‘It was so painful that I felt it was better to die.’

And some were tortured with sleep deprivation.

One Christian woman in solitary confinement was driven to suicide in 2020 after prison guards refused to let her sleep, the new publication said.

Other horrors endured by Christians include starvation, dehydration, tainted food, beatings, and forced adoption of agonising positions for prolonged periods.

The report – which summarises the findings of various non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights groups, and the UN – paints a disturbing picture of Christian life in North Korea.

It cites one estimate that up to 70,000 Christians are imprisoned for their faith under the Kim Jong-un regime, out of a possible population of 400,000.

Ostensibly, North Korea guarantees its people religious freedom in its constitution – and the regime highlights the churches it has built in Pyongyang as proof.

But the publication said these churches operated only as ‘showpieces for foreigners’.

It cited the testimony of one defector, who said people could be arrested for lingering too long outside the churches and listening to music from within, or even consistently driving past them.

Choristers at the Pyongyang church. American Ray Cunningham visited the church and said ‘I came away wondering just how real this is’

Chilgol Protestant Church in Pyongyang from the outside. North Korea highlights the churches it has built in Pyongyang as proof of its religious tolerance

Ray Cunningham, from Homer in the US state of Illinois, visited Chilgol Protestant Church in Pyongyang during a service.

He said: ‘I came away wondering just how real this is.

‘Are the services regular? The church seems maintained but is it a regular event? In the society you see no evidence of religious activity – except for Buddhism.

‘It feels real but like many things indeed it may be somewhat a show for tourists. In this case it might be a mixture of showmanship and a few elderly Christians in the area.’

He also noted something that was highlighted in the report – no children attend the services.

‘The congregation was made up of older men – all seemingly over 65 – and women over 40,’ he said.

‘What you did not see were children or young working-age people.’

The new publication said many North Korean Christians actually hid their faith from their children.

It cited the finding of one NGO, Open Doors USA (ODUSA), which said: ‘A Christian is never safe.

‘Children are encouraged to tell their teachers about any sign of faith in their parents’ home.’

Another NGO, Korea Future, said children were taught in school about the ‘evil deeds’ of Christian missionaries, including ‘rape, blood sucking, organ harvesting, murder, and espionage’.

The report said: ‘One defector told Korea Future that the government published graphic novels in which Christians coaxed children into churches and took them to the basement to draw their blood.’

And while most of the cases of religious persecution documented by Korea Future targeted those pracitising shamanism, it was Christians who normally received the harshest punishments.

It’s because they’re perceived as a ‘hostile class’ and a ‘serious threat to loyalty to the state’ the report said.

For followers of shamanism, punishments range from six months in a forced labour camp to three or more years in a reeducation facility.

Christians, meanwhile, can be executed, or face anything from 15 years to life in a prison camp, imposed on up to three generations of the immediate family of the person found guilty.

The report repeated the conclusion reached by ODUSA, that ‘life for Christians is a constant cauldron of pressure; capture or death is only a mistake away’.

In place of religion, the Kim family demands worship for itself and its ideology of Juche – meaning national self-reliance, the publication said.

These offered a ‘form of state-sponsored theology’ it said.

The report explains: ‘Although the ideology makes no explicit claim that the leaders are gods, they are described as ‘extraordinary beings’ capable of supernatural feats.’

One defector described being taught that bullets would change course rather than hit Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather.

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