Don't be fooled by North Korea's Winter Olympics stunt, warns Christian persecution watchdog

As the Winter Olympics begins today, with its historic inclusion of a joint Korean team, Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors is imploring people not to forget the brutal oppression of Christians by North Korea.

Dr Matthew Rees, Advocacy Policy Officer at Open Doors, said: 'As many nations come together to take part in the Winter Olympics, let us not forget that every day over 300,000 Christians are denied the right to take part in the religious observance of their choice. They are a beleaguered community who are fighting for their very survival.'

The divided North and South Korea will march under one 'pro-unification flag' at this month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. A joint Korean women's ice hockey team will represent both nations in what Korean politicians have said will be a reconciliatory 'peace games'. But Open Doors is urging the world to see past North Korea's 'friendly face' and recognise a nation that 'ignores all freedoms', according to Timothy, a North Korean refugee.

ReutersNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a grand military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Korean People's Army.

'The human rights level is zero per cent. Religions are not allowed. The leader of North Korea has to be worshipped as god, and this will not change unless the regime collapses,' Timothy said.

Christian faith in God is largely seen as a threat to the authority of Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of the tightly controlled and secretive state. Tens of thousands of Christians are subject to imprisonment in punishing labour camps, while others are forced to keep their faith a complete secret from suspicious neighbours.

However, Open Doors estimates a growing number of Christians (currently around 300,000) in the country, despite the nation being number one on the Open Doors 2018 World Watch List, which ranks the countries in which it is hardest to be a Christian. As a way of supporting oppressed believers, Open Doors is launching its Lent resource Live like a North Korean, as a way to identify with Christian persecution. Prayers, reflections and weekly challenges are intended to 'connect you with your persecuted North Korean family'.

One North Korean secret believer described what it meant to receive encouragement from across the world: 'We don't know your names or your faces. Still you support us. Thanks to you we are holding on.'

The free resource can be ordered on the Open Doors website.