Korea Future Initiative Releases New Report on Religious Persecution in North Korea

In October 2020, Korea Future Initiative released its groundbreaking report Persecuting Faith: Documenting religious freedom violations in North Korea in which they highlight the personal testimonies and stories of survival of some 117 North Korean defectors and exiled individuals. This report, comprehensive in its breadth and salient in its message, displays just how dangerous it is to be a believer – of any faith or spiritual practice – in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“My mother used to evangelise in North Korea. She was a very passionate person. There were 10 people in her religious circle and my mother knew them all personally. Then one of them was arrested. He was tortured, interrogated, and sent with his entire family to a political prison camp.”

Many interviewed defectors revealed that they witnessed the arrests of believers with their own eyes. These individuals had been reported to the police by their own family members, friends, and loved ones. Some were arrested because they participated in religious activities abroad in China; some were arrested for owning religious texts and bibles; some individuals were arrested for just having contact with individuals engaging in religious or spiritual practice; some were arrested because they visited a place of worship, such as clandestine churches or covert religious meetings; some were arrested for event speaking of religion.

“If you are lucky you will be shot. If you are unlucky, you will be sent to a political prison camp.”

For the ‘crime’ of holding religious and spiritual beliefs, men and women are subjected to exorbitant and horrendous amounts of torture. After being arbitrarily arrested, detained individuals are roped together, or stripped naked, and subject to invasive body searches. With the looming presence of 24-hour surveillance cameras, victims were forced to sit in uncomfortable positions for hours at a time, urinate and defecate in their own clothing, were denied food and water, were physically beaten and assaulted day in and day out by prison guards, were interrogated and punished for their answers, and more.

“I was tortured in prison and physically assaulted. These experiences remain with me as trauma. I have nightmares in the middle of the night […] The memory of living among a pile of corpses is still there.”

For victims that were both religious believers and women, sexual violence was a disturbing reality. Some women, notably those that had become pregnant while abroad, were forced to give birth and then watch as their newborn infants were killed by police officers. Others were forced to have abortions because North Korean law prevents pregnant women from being tried in court. Women and girls as young as three years old often had been forced to endure invasive body cavity searches.

The human rights abuses that these defectors and survivors experienced for their faith in North Korea are endless; to read more in-depth, check out Korea Future Initiative’s Persecuting Faith: Documenting religious freedom violations in North Korea.

Image by Roman Harak on Flickr.