North Korea's 'campaign to exterminate' Christians 'has been brutally effective' - report

A North Korean Christian.(Photo: Open Doors)

The North Korean Communist dictatorship is as determined as ever to stamp out Christianity, a new report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has found.

"The campaign to exterminate all Christian adherents and institutions in North Korea has been brutally effective," it says.

Arbitrary arrest and detention, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, torture, executions, and the systematic denial of religious freedom rights are the tools the North Korean government uses, according to the report called 'Organized Persecution – Documenting Religious Freedom Violations in North Korea'.

"These violations, which were documented as occurring as recently as 2020, are seemingly designed to remove all traces of Christianity," it says.

The concerted state-sponsored persecution continues through "the work of the Ministry of State Security, networks of informants that stretch into China, the presence of 'no-exit' political prison camps, executions, and an educational and organizational system that deters adherence through schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods."

USCIRF investigators interviewed survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators of religious freedom violations in 2020 and 2021. The majority of interviewees escaped North Korea in 2019.

"We identified 68 cases of the state prosecuting individuals for their religion or belief or for their association with religious persons," it says.

One former detainee explained how a prisoner who had been arrested for smuggling a small copy of the Bible from China to North Korea was locked in solitary confinement.

"Correctional officers would take the metal cleaning rod for a rifle and have the prisoner stick out their hands and strike them with the metal rod mercilessly."

Investigators also "documented credible accounts of the execution of Christian adherents who had practiced within the territory of North Korea, rather than in or through China.

"It is noteworthy that details from these incidents come from former security officials, reflecting the level of secrecy with which the state deals with incidents of Christianity that arise domestically."

In July 2011 a Christian woman and her grandchild were executed by firing squad in Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province.

In another instance, six people convicted of practising Christianity were executed in secret by firing squad in 2015. This took place in Yeonan County in South Hwanghae Province, with up to 40 others sentenced to a political prison camp for life.

The report was authored by Inje Hwang, an investigator at human rights organisation Korea Future, and by James Burt, Chief Strategy Officer at Korea Future.

The USCIRF is a federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. It reports to the President, Secretary of State and Congress.