North Korean Christians Crushed Under Steamrollers, Hung Over Fires

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A new report released last week by the British-based human rights advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide has revealed more horrific details on how the authoritarian North Korean regime tortures, mutilates and kills Christians.

North Korea President Kim Jong-Un
North Korea President Kim Jong-Un

While it is no secret that that the regime of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has thrown tens of thousands of Christians in political prison camps, where they have been subjected to hard labor, torture and have even been killed, details are often left out on just how North Korea victimizes its own citizens for going against the will of the regime.

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It is widely understood that there is virtually no such thing as religious freedom in North Korea, but a new report is shedding light on just how dire the situation is for Christians living in the hermit kingdom. In a 15-page document titled Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea, British-based human rights advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide offers troubling details on how Kim Jong-Un’s regime tortures, mutilates, and kills Christians.

As the report explains, religious freedom in North Korea is “largely non-existent” and faith-based persecution has been commonplace since the 1950s because religious beliefs are “seen as a threat to the loyalty demanded by the Supreme Leader.” While Christians are the main target of abuse, Buddhism and Shamanism are also practiced in the country and “suppressed to varying degrees.”

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The World Watch List compiled by Open Doors lists North Korea as the “most oppressive place in the world for Christians” due to the country’s totalitarian regime and surveillance state that forces Christians “to hide their faith completely from government authorities, neighbors, and often, even their own spouses and children.” The country has for the last eighteen years, held the position of the most dangerous places for Christians.

Many attempt to find freedom in South Korea or China, but those who are discovered are subject to imprisonment, labor camps, and, in extreme cases, death.

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The CSW research further corroborated the Open Doors report, finding Christians “usually practice their faith in secret” as to avoid the punishment that awaits if they are found out.

“If discovered they are subject to detention and then likely taken to political prison camps (kwanliso),” the document reads. “Crimes against them in these camps include extra-judicial killing extermination, enslavement/forced labour, forcible transfer of population, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance, rape and sexual violence, and other inhumane acts.”

North Koreans bow to the statue of their late supreme leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il
North Koreans bow to the statue of their late supreme leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il

CSW goes to document some of the known instances of gruesome torture Christians have ensured in the country:

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Documented incidents against Christians include being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot. A policy of guilt by association applies, meaning that the relatives of Christians are also detained regardless of whether they share the Christian belief. Even North Koreans who have escaped to China, and who are or become Christians, are often repatriated and subsequently imprisoned in a political prison camp.

While Open Doors estimates there are approximately 300,000 Christians in North Korea and the South Korea-based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights finds that there are at least 123 religious institutions in the nation, most of them are Buddhist or Cheondoist temples. CSW found there are three Protestant churches, one Catholic cathedral, and a Russian Orthodox church in the capital city of Pyongyang, but they are state-sponsored churches used only for propaganda purposes.

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“Although the buildings and religious services appear to suggest some degree of freedom of religion or belief, that freedom is extremely limited and may be aimed primarily at visitors and foreigners,” the CSW report says. “All the churches are found in Pyongyang and there is no record of church buildings existing anywhere else.”

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While the history persecution and abuse in the hermit kingdom runs deep, CSW believes conditions can improve, if China and other UN Member States put pressure on Kim Jong-Un and his government to abide by international law, while working to provide a safe place for refugees to flee.

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“North Korea should abide by international human rights instruments and international law, and cease its grave violations of human rights,” the report states.

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You can read and download the report in full, below (pdf)

Download (PDF, 950KB)

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