North Korea has been at the top of the countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. It’s still the most dangerous place in the world to follow Jesus. Many believers have to keep their faith secret even from their own families. Open Doors estimates that there are approximately 300,000 Christians in North Korea, from a population of 25.7 million. It’s very difficult to know exactly how many believers live in North Korea because they must keep their faith completely secret.
From that 300,000, Open Doors estimates that 50,000-70,000 Christians are currently imprisoned in terrible labour camps for their faith. It is unlikely that they will ever be able to leave.
We interviewed Lee (fictional name to protect the identity), a Christian from North Korea, who escaped Kim Jong-un’s regime. Lee gave a powerful speech at a conference, organized by Open Doors in the European Parliament in Brussels, on the life of Christians persecuted in North Korea.
How is the life of Christians in North Korea?
Christians in North Korea are fearful of spies sent by the State’s secret police that might discover them. Some of the Christians who still live in North Korea are hiding their Bibles behind photos of Kim Jong-un hanging on the wall, which is mandatory for all North Korean families. The secret police arrives every week to check if there is dust on Kim’s picture frame but they don’t look behind it. Church services are celebrating in a very clandestine way. They can’t do a mass gathering to celebrate Holy Mass because it’s always possible that some infiltrates of the North Korean regime can attend. Spies generally infiltrated also the Christian community in South Korea or in China to understand which Christian NGOs are helping North Korean Christians to escape. One Christian Chinese pastor, who was facilitating Christians’ escape, was found in China with his body cut in three pieces. There is a lot of collaboration between China and North Korea to persecute Christian communities. All North Korean Christians who escaped to China and have been caught, have been sent back to North Korea immediately.
Why does North Korea persecute Christian communities so much?
North Korea classifies Christians as a direct threat to Kim Jong-un because they say that there is only one God. Along with being a political crime and a crime against the state, being Christian is also a crime against the so-called Supreme leader and the whole Jong-un family. I became a Christian during my escape. I was imprisoned in Shanghai by the Chinese police when I tried to escape North Korea. In the prison, I started praying because I was convinced I would be sent back to North Korea to be executed. I couldn’t be a Christian in North Korea because you are either imprisoned and detained in some political concentration camps or you are executed in public places.
Are you also concerned for your life here in Europe?
I am very much concerned about North Korea hackers. It is said that they are more than 7,000 and they check all the defectors around the world whether they are in the UK, Asia or the US… They can follow your phone, your computer, your moves…and you don’t know what to expect… North Korea can’t afford high level technologies but China does and China can help North Korea in that. China installed high level technology such artificial intelligences on the border with North Korea and this can be used against all the defectors. This will reduce the number of people able to escape the country.
What do you think Europe can do to help Christians in North Korea?
It’s important that European states and the European Union continue to press North Korea to respect human rights and religious freedom, eventually also imposing sanctions. Europe could also give more both political and financial support to Christian NGOs like Open Doors or Aid to the Church in Need. But much more help is needed. The support from Western countries has decreased a lot lately. I came here as a Christian but I am really wondering: “do you really know who you are?” It seems European countries have lost their identity and forgot Christians around the world. Countries persecuting Christian communities are quite fine with that because no one is telling them they shouldn’t do that. One of the reason is the economy. Many of the European countries don’t want to bother China. The Vatican and the European churches can do much more to help persecuted Christians. It looks as if they are afraid to talk about who they are. Religious leaders are also afraid to speak about the persecutions. We are expecting much more from them!