North Korea has been ranked as the worst country in the world for Christians to live by persecution watchdog groups, such as Open Doors USA, for 15 straight years, though in 2017 much of the world's fears centered on the nation's expanding nuclear weapons program.
This was compounded by a number of defectors revealing their shocking stories of seeing deformed babies and floating corpses following nuclear testing in the hermit kingdom.
Other defectors revealed the deplorable conditions in which people live, including female soldiers who are repeatedly raped and abused, and are so malnourished that their bodies stop menstruating.
Children also endure persecution under the Kim regime and are tortured and forced to live in prison camps because of their faith in Christ. Some prominent pastors, such as Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California, have speculated that the nuclear conflict fits in with End Times prophecy.
Here's a list of five of the most disturbing and eye-opening stories to come out of North Korea in 2017:
1. Christian orphans tortured
Human rights advocates who spoke during North Korean Freedom Week in April, sponsored by the North Korean Freedom Coalition, revealed that even children are tortured if they are found to be Christians.
Lim Hye-Jin of the New Korea Women's Union recounted the story of 17 North Korean orphans who defected and fled to China but were detained and forcibly repatriated back home. Three of the children were found to be Christians, and as punishment were sent to a political prison camp.
"Under North Korean law, children under the age of 18 should not be sent to a political prison camp. But in this case, they were found to be Christians and had been in a church, [so] they were separated from their group" where they were "tortured harshly," Lim said.
Security forces found out that the three children where Christians because of the calluses on their knees, which had been formed from praying to God for a long time for help.
The other orphans were reportedly sent to a reeducation camp.
2. Nuclear End Times prophecy fears
The escalation of tensions between North Korea and the United States over the former's nuclear program, including specific threats to attack U.S. territories, led to speculation over how the current affairs fit in with End Times prophecy in the Bible.
Megachurch Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, warned in May that the threat of a nuclear weapons strike "can't be dismissed or taken lightly."
"How does this fit into the prophetic puzzle? Well, in the last days there is no mention of any nation that would resemble North Korea," Laurie said at the time.
"Here is what concerns me. We do not find the reigning superpower on the face of the Earth anywhere in the Last Days scenario. Other nations emerge. So where is America? I pray we are not out of the picture, because we have been in some kind of nuclear conflict," he added.
He urged Americans everywhere to pray for President Donald Trump to make wise decisions in the conflict.
3. Tortured U.S. student dies
American student Otto Warmbier was one of several Westerners to be returned home following captivity in North Korea in 2017, though the Ohio native died only days after his release in June.
In September, his parents said that he had been returned to them in an extremely distressing state. Fred Warmbier said that his son "was jerking violently, making these inhuman, howling" sounds on the plane in which he was flown back.
The parents added that their son had been tortured, and that he was "blind and deaf, with mangled teeth, jerking violently and moaning on a stretcher with a feeding tube coming out of his nose."
Warmbier added: "As we looked at him and tried to comfort him it looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth. ... He had a large scar on his right foot."
North Korean officials had previously claimed that they treated the student "according to domestic and international standards."
4. Deformed babies, corpses at nuclear site
As the world's fears grew over dictator Kim Jong Un's insistence on expanding the country's nuclear program, several defectors came forward in November to expose highly disturbing stories from the Punngye-ri nuclear site.
"I heard from a relative in Kilju that deformed babies were born in hospitals there," one unnamed defector told the Research Association of Vision of North Korea.
Another stated, "I spoke on the phone with family members I left behind there and they told me that all of the underground wells dried up after the sixth nuclear test."
One defector, who escaped in 2010, revealed that he experienced two nuclear tests in Punggye-ri, where mostly soldiers and farmers live.
"Prior to nuclear tests, around two tests involving only detonators take place, and locals are mobilized to dig deep holes for those tests. I personally saw corpses floating down the river with their limbs severed," he revealed.
5. Female soldiers stop having periods
A former North Korean female soldier who served for nearly 10 years revealed in November that women are abused so horrifically in the army that many of them stop menstruating.
Lee So Yeon said that "malnutrition and the stressful environment" leads women to stop having their periods after six months to a year of service.
"The female soldiers were saying that they are glad that they are not having periods. They were saying that they were glad because the situation is so bad if they were having periods too that would have been worse," she said.
A number of the female soldiers also suffered repeated rapes, Lee said, and due to limited provisions were forced to take showers with a hose connected to a mountain stream.
"We would get frogs and snakes through the hose," she recalled.