We have launched a new website and this page has been archived.Find out more

[Skip to Content]

24 January 2013

Christians imprisoned and tortured in North Korea

When you hear of Christians suffering in prison camps the stories of Corrie Ten Boom and others during the second World War may spring to mind. Yet today, at this moment, Christians are facing hard labour, torture and oppression in the camps of North Korea. In one of the most repressive regimes in the world an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 North Korean Christians are in labour camps for their refusal to worship founder Kim Il-Sung's cult.

Hea-Woo, a Christian prisoner who faced years in a North Korean camp describes her experience in an Open Doors UK video. She endured hard labour from 5am 'criticism sessions' to explain her wrong doings and accuse others, and hours of ideological training. But, like Corrie Ten Boom before her, Hea-Woo's faith, prayers and meditation on God's word got her through and helped her to support fellow prisoners, sharing God's love. In the words of Corrie Ten Boom over six decades before: "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still."

North Korea's 24.4 million citizens are denied many of their human rights, including freedom of association, movement and worship. Resistance to the country's regime is strongly punished, and control is exerted through propaganda (including state-run media), ruthless elimination of opposition and starvation. Millions of soldiers and reservists enforce government control, and the number of spies placed in China to look for defectors and their supporters has increased under the new leader Kim Jong-Un. Hopes that a change in regime leader in December 2011 would increase religious freedom look unlikely to be realised, with Christians continuing to be imprisoned and tortured, and increasing pressure on citizens to confess their 'crimes', which include viewing foreign media.

Reports of two Christians recently killed in North Korea were confirmed this week. One was shot as he left for China to begin Bible training, and another died following a lack of food and terrible torture in a labour camp. A North Korean refugee explained: "There is no religious freedom whatsoever in North Korea. People are simply killed if they believe in Jesus…Kim Jong-Un is a god and there cannot be any god besides him."

Most North Koreans have never met a Christian or seen a Bible or church, and are indoctrinated to believe that Christians are 'crazy people'. Three churches exist in the city of Pyongyang, but as Release International explains these are simply showcases for foreigners, with sermons containing political messages in support of the regime.

North Korea remains on the top of the World Watch List, produced by Open Doors to rank countries by the severity of persecution that Christians face for actively pursuing their faith. In explaining why the country is ranked number one they say:

"One would have to create a new language to put into words the cruelties of the North Korean regime. In no other country are Christians so severely persecuted. Tens of thousands live and (ultimately) die in concentration camps. Even the possession of a Bible is reason enough to be killed or locked up with your family for the remainder of your life."

This week, on 21 January, members of the House of Lords called on the United Kingdom to support proposals for a UN Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity in North Korea. The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, human rights NGOs and 179 North Korean defectors are also calling for this. They agree that the time has come for the UN to fully investigate, gather evidence and make recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly.

A North Korean church leader wrote in a secret letter to Open Doors: "No matter what circumstances we face, we stand firm in the mighty hands of God and we will continue to march strongly towards the eternal kingdom." We can be inspired by the faith and hope of North Korean Christians who face such suffering.

We encourage you to pray:

  • that the Christians of North Korea experience the deep love of Christ and God's protection;
  • for Christian NGOs as they offer aid including food, financial support, medicine and Bibles;
  • for the safety of North Korean Christians escaping to China;
  • for change, freedom and justice in this nation;
  • that the UN would establish a UN Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity in North Korea, and have the wisdom to know what further action to take.

You can also:

  • Talk to your church or youth group about the situation in North Korea, (videos and power point resources are available on the Open Doors website);
  • Join CSW's Cry Freedom Campaign to call for change in North Korea, Cuba, Burma, China, Iran and Eritrea.