A child was sentenced to life in prison in North Korea after his family was discovered in possession of a Bible, according to a new US State Department report.
Despite the fact that the event occurred in 2009, it was highlighted in the Department of State’s latest report on worldwide religious freedoms this month, citing data from Korea Future, a non-governmental organization that documents human rights violations in North Korea.
“One case involved the 2009 arrest of a family based on their religious practices and possession of a Bible.
“The entire family, including a two-year-old child, were given life sentences in political prison camps,” it said.
There are an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 clandestine Christians in North Korea, primarily in the West, where many are thought to have settled following an “explosion” of interest in the faith in 1907.
The Korea Future study was based on interviews with 244 victims of religious persecution who had been subjected to arrest, incarceration, forced labor, torture, denial of a fair trial or the right to life, and sexual abuse for practicing shamanic or Christian beliefs between 2007 and 2020.
The findings underscore the regime’s anxiety about religious minorities and its lack of tolerance for any creed other than total allegiance to the ruling Kim family’s iron grasp on power.
The North Korean leadership tried to eliminate Christianity for decades and is claimed to be afraid of the church’s influence after studying its involvement in the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe in the 1980s.
Defectors have disclosed horrific stories of Christians being tortured, slaughtered, and imprisoned in gulags.
There are a few Christian churches scattered around the country, including four in Pyongyang. However, most observers believe these are really “show churches.”
According to Open Doors USA, which campaigns for persecuted Christians throughout the world, between 50,000 and 70,000 North Korean people are imprisoned for their Christian beliefs.
The group has stated that “life for Christians … is a constant cauldron of pressure; capture or death is only a mistake away.”
Open Doors said earlier this year in its “World Watch List” report that Pyongyang has increased its hounding of Christians in search of underground churches.
It detailed a “horrifying incident” in which several dozen believers had been discovered and killed, with over 100 of their family members being sent to labor camps.
The North Korean state also targets followers of shamanism and Cheondoism, a modern religious movement based on a 19th-century Korean neo-Confucian movement.
According to the state department, some survivors who were imprisoned for shamanism revealed horrific conditions in prison camps, where they claimed to be beaten, placed into stress positions, and fed contaminated food.
“[Officials] worked us hard without feeding us properly… I suffered from malnutrition and was sure I would not survive. I kept having diarrhea, even when I only drank water, and I weighed just 35 kilograms [77 pounds]… so I was like a skeleton back then,” said one former prisoner.
According to the State Department assessment, the situation in North Korea has “not fundamentally changed” since a devastating United Nations Commission of Inquiry report on human rights violations there in 2014.
It noted that the inquiry “found that authorities almost completely denied the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion and determined the government in many instances committed violations of human rights that constituted crimes against humanity”.
North Korea has also grown increasingly difficult to leave since the outbreak began.
A Reuters investigation released on Monday utilized commercial satellite pictures to reveal how the dictatorship has taken advantage of the health crisis to construct hundreds of miles of new or upgraded border barriers, walls, and guard stations to keep its people in.