NORTH KOREA: : 23 Christians arrested, 3 executed

North Korea Flag In mid-May, 23 North Korean Christians attending a house church meeting in Pyongan Province were discovered by police and arrested.

They were interrogated at length, tried, and the three leaders were sentenced to death and executed. The others were sent to the kwan-li-so (penal labour colony).

According to local sources, “As the authorities fear the spread of religion, many area residents are rounded up and interrogated for days… Such sentences are meant to scare people.” They added, “The situation is so desperate that people are going back to religion.” The country is in an economic crisis, following a disastrous currency reform.

North Korea denies freedom of religion. Officially, there are three Christian places of worship (one Roman Catholic and two Protestant churches – they are really show-churches for foreign visitors) and four Buddhist temples, but only in the capital Pyongyang. Outside of these, all expressions of religion are ruthlessly repressed. Secret believers meet in “underground churches” in homes, usually in small family groups. They must take great care as there is a high risk of being betrayed by neighbours.

The only cult allowed is that of the “Eternal President” or “Great Leader” Kim Il-Sung and his son, the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il. This official state ideology is called “Juche” and was first pronounced in 1955 by Kim Il-Sung. It has become a pseudo-religious personality-cult and is so pervasive that the majority of North Koreans have never heard of Jesus. (Some of the Christians who were arrested in May had learned about Christ when they travelled to China for work.)

During the Korean War in the early 1950’s, most Christians either fled to the South or were imprisoned or martyred, and church buildings were bulldozed. There are many Christians in the kwan-li-so, among the estimated 200,000 political prisoners who are imprisoned without trial. These prisoners’ lives consist of extremely hard labour (mining, timber-cutting or farming) and they live under brutal conditions in permanent semi-starvation.

North Korea is internationally recognised as the harshest country in the world in which to live as a Christian. (AsiaNews)