North Korea Worst Persecutor of Christians in the World

There is good reason to fear the dangerous brinksmanship of North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un

Adjunct Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom

There is good reason to fear the dangerous brinksmanship of North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un. His unrepentant development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons is increasingly alarming.

Most of the world views Kim as a pariah, and his countrymen as helpless pawns in his deadly game-playing. And recently the volume of his rhetoric has been raised to deafening levels. In response, a grim question arises in places like Guam, California, Japan, and Washington D.C.: What if…?

The North Korean population pays a terrible price in hunger and deprivation for Kim’s paranoid, extravagantly costly military infrastructure. They live with meager food, little electricity, and constant surveillance.

But no one pays a higher price than North Korean Christians.

For the past several years, World Watch List has designated North Korea the world’s worst persecutor of Christians — Number 1 on the list.

Another report arrives annually courtesy of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

And, for the sake of clear understanding, the four paragraphs that follow from the summary of the USCIRF 2017 report on North Korea tell a gruesome story:

“The North Korean government continues to rank as one of the world’s most repressive regimes, in part because of its deplorable human rights record. Freedom of religion or belief does not exist and is, in fact, profoundly suppressed. The regime considers religion to pose the utmost threat — both to its own survival and that of the country. The North Korean government relentlessly persecutes and punishes religious believers through arrest, torture, imprisonment — and sometimes execution.

“Once imprisoned, religious believers typically are sent to political prison camps where they are treated with extraordinary cruelty. Based on the North Korean government’s longstanding and continuing record of systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief, USCIRF again finds that North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), merits designation in 2017 as a ‘country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The State Department has designated North Korea as a CPC since 2001, most recently in October 2016.

“All religious groups are prohibited from conducting religious activities except through the handful of state-controlled houses of worship, and even these activities are tightly controlled. According to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, individuals face persecution for propagating religion, possessing religious items, carrying out religious activities (including praying and singing hymns), and having contact with religious persons.

“However, the North Korean regime reviles Christianity the most and considers it the biggest threat; it associates that faith with the West, particularly the United States. Through robust surveillance, the regime actively tries to identify and search out Christians practicing their faith in secret and imprisons those it apprehends, often along with their family members even if they are not similarly religious. According to the State Department, the North Korean regime currently detains an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 individuals in political prison camps known as kwanliso. Reports indicate tens of thousands of these prisoners are Christians facing hard labor or execution.”

On Sunday, Toronto pastor Hyeon Soo Lim made his first public appearance since being released last week from a North Korean prisoner camp. He was greeted by tearful members of his church in Toronto, where he was seen joyously hugging his 1-year-old granddaughter, who was born while he was in captivity.

In his remarks, he credited his survival “to all the churches in Canada, the United States, and Korea — the many friends around the world who have prayed daily for two years and seven months, until the day I was released and returned home.”

Of his freedom he remarked: “It feels like a dream. Truly, this is all by the grace of God.”