Pyongyang is mostly in the news because of its aggressive behavior in international relations. On the domestic scene, Kim Jong-un is following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather who ruled the country ruthlessly, including repressing believers. Among them, Christians, even their young children. A report has just revealed that at least one baby has been sentenced to life in a gulag camp.
In its report on religious freedom in the world published on May 15, the United States Department of State points out that North Korea maintains a high level of religious freedom violations. The document reads that “the government continued to execute, torture, arrest and physically abuse people for their religious activities.”
The situation has not changed since the report written in 2014 by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea. The investigators had collected enough elements to underline that many violations of these rights constituted crimes against humanity. According to the report, there was an almost absolute denial of freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.
The report presented to the UN General Assembly in 2021 indicates that there was no improvement. It points to “a lack of access to information relating to religion and religious activities, the criminalization of items imported without permission, the absence of religious facilities except in Pyongyang, and surveillance by neighbors and authorities”. According to this report, Christians are considered a “hostile class” and a “serious threat to loyalty to the state”.
Life imprisonment or even the death penalty for possession of a Bible
The difficulty in collecting information means that some information does not reach us until years later. The State Department report thus reveals 14 years after the events that a two-year-old child was sentenced to life in prison.
In 2009, a family was arrested for their religious practices and possession of a Bible. All of its members, including the baby, were sentenced to serve a life sentence in a political prison. In North Korea, the parents and children of those accused of expressing illegal opinions are themselves brought to justice for crimes of opinion.
In 2001, Pyongyang strengthened its fight against Christianity by adopting a new law sanctioning the importation of prohibited material, including the Bible. The text explicitly mentions Christians and provides for up to 10 years of forced labor, or even capital punishment if the number of works is significant.
70 Christians as well as followers of other beliefs are believed to be locked up in North Korean prisons where they are subjected to harsh treatment, are very poorly fed and can be murdered by their jailers. Many people die there of starvation and exhaustion, forced to work in the worst conditions.