Worst record for persecution of Christians in the world
For the 13th consecutive year, North Korea has topped the list of countries where religious persecution is most extreme. According to the latest report “Persecuted and Forgotten?” from Aid to the Church in Need, only conversion to a state-sanctioned Christian church is allowed in North Korea. Becoming Christian without the government’s permission could lead to arrest, torture or even a death sentence. According to reports on South Korean television, up to 50,000 North Koreans are imprisoned in re-education camps for practicing Christianity. 33 Christians were summarily executed for contacting other Christians in South Korea.
Things were very different a hundred years ago when Pyongyang had a thriving Christian community. There were scores of churches in the area which was considered a missionary hub and even became known as the ‘Jerusalem of the East’.
However, when North Korea’s founder leader Kim Il-Sung took power he considered Christianity a threat to his god-like status and monopoly on ideology. He ordered Christianity to be effectively eradicated and since then Christians have faced unimaginable pressure in every sphere of life.
The situation under his successors was no better as they all insisted on being worshipped like gods by the people, almost excluding any religion. Under the current leader, Kim Jong-Un, Catholic organizations are permitted to run aid projects in North Korea. However, direct relations with the Vatican are non-existent.
North Korea has clamped down on Christian groups in recent years. Even foreign church ministers carrying out humanitarian work have come under attack. A Canadian pastor born in South Korea, Hyeon Soo Lim, was recently sentenced to hard labour for life for subversion. He is the only Western citizen currently known to be imprisoned in North Korea. Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary, had previously been sentenced to 15 years of hard labour but was released in 2014, along with another man who had left a copy of the Bible at a club. A South Korean national with a U.S. green card was freed last October after being held for six months.