September 22, 2023

Toddler in North Korea sentenced to life after parents caught with Bible

A North Korean Bible - Ray Cunningham via Pen News

A North Korean Bible – Ray Cunningham via Pen News

A toddler has been sentenced to life in prison in North Korea after the child’s family came into possession of a Bible, according to a new report from the US State Department.

Although the incident took place in 2009, it was highlighted in the Department of International Religious Freedoms’ new report this month, citing data from Korea Future, a nongovernmental organization that documents human rights abuses in North Korea.

“One case involved the arrest of a family in 2009 for their religious practices and possession of a Bible.

“The whole family, including a two-year-old child, received life sentences in political prison camps,” it said.

There are estimated to be between 200,000 and 400,000 clandestine Christians in North Korea, mostly in the West, where many are said to have settled after an “explosion” of interest in the religion in 1907.

Korea Future’s report was based on interviews conducted between 2007 and 2020 with 244 victims of religious persecution, who were subject to arrest, detention, forced labor, torture, denial of due process or right to life, and sexual violence, for practicing shamanism or Christian beliefs.

The findings reflect the regime’s paranoia towards religious minorities and its lack of tolerance for any faith other than absolute devotion to the ruling Kim family as they try to maintain their iron grip on power.

The North Korean regime has been trying to eradicate Christianity for decades and fears the influence of the Church after studying its role in the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe in the 1980s.

Defectors have revealed gruesome details of Christians being brutally tortured, killed and imprisoned in gulags.

There are a handful of Christian churches across the country, including four in Pyongyang. But most observers say these are just “show churches”.

‘Death is just a mistake away’

It is estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 North Korean citizens are in prison for their Christian faith, according to Open Doors USA (ODUSA), which works for persecuted Christians around the world.

The group has stated that “life for Christians… is a constant cauldron of pressure; capture or death is just a mistake away.

In its “World Watch List” report, released earlier this year, Open Doors said Pyongyang had intensified its pursuit of Christians, hunting down underground churches.

It documented a “horrific incident” in which several dozen believers were discovered and executed, with more than 100 of their relatives sent to labor camps.

Chilgol Protestant Church in Pyongyang.  Critics say such institutions are

Chilgol Protestant Church in Pyongyang. Critics say such institutions are “foreigners’ showpieces” – Ray Cunningham via Pen News

Followers of shamanism and Cheondoism, a modern religious movement based on a 19th-century Korean neo-Confucian movement, have also been targeted by the North Korean regime.

Several survivors imprisoned for shamanism also described the appalling conditions in detention camps, where they testified they were beaten, forced into stress positions and fed contaminated food, the State Department said.

“[Officials] worked us hard without feeding us properly… I suffered from malnutrition and was sure I wouldn’t survive. I continued to have diarrhea even when I only drank water, and I weighed only 35 kilos [77 pounds]… so I was like a skeleton then,” said a former prisoner.

The State Department report concluded that the situation in North Korea “has not fundamentally changed” since a damning 2014 report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into human rights deprivation there.

It noted that the inquiry “found that authorities almost completely denied the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and determined that in many cases the government committed human rights abuses that constituted crimes against humanity.”

It has also become increasingly difficult to escape from North Korea since the start of the pandemic.

A Reuters investigation published Monday used commercial satellite imagery to show how the regime has used the health crisis as an opportunity to build hundreds of miles of new or improved border fences, walls and guard posts to confine its people.

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