The percentage of North Korean citizens who are exposed to the Bible is steadily increasing every year despite extreme persecution, according to a new report that investigates and analyzes the conditions of religious freedom in the Hermit Kingdom.
The annual White Paper on Religious Freedom in North Korea from The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights found that the number of North Koreans who responded that “they have an experience of seeing the Bible” increased by 4% each year since 2000.
Before 2000, only 16 people claimed to have seen a Bible. After 2000, up to 559 North Korean defectors said they had “seen a Bible,” even though religious literature is banned in the isolated country.
Despite limited data, NKDB began its survey on religious persecution in 2007. For this year’s survey, the group collected information from 1,234 people and 1,411 cases of religious persecution.
The latest report found that the number of respondents who testified on the ban of religious activities remained the same between 2007 and 2020.
When asked about the level of punishment for religious activities in the country, 46.7% of the respondents answered they have to go to prison camps. About 38.6% of respondents said that they did not know about punishments since they knew nothing about religion.
According to the Center, religious persecution has increased after leader Kim Jong Un issued an order in April 2014 to "arrest people who had contacts with Christianity.”
Since then, security forces have actively searched for religious adherents — even in inner China. Employees of the National Security Department, Reconnaissance General Bureau, and the Embassy in China are mobilized to arrest people who have contacted Christianity, the report says.
The report also shared testimonies of several North Korean defectors.
One defector who lives in South Korea recounted the story of an unidentified acquaintance who was killed for her Christian faith.
“When we were living [in North Korea], we did not know she was practicing religion. However, when I came back home, I heard she was killed,” the defector recounted.
“When I asked why she died, I was told she was arrested alone whereas the whole family left the town as they were practicing religion. I heard she was suffering and prayed until the point she died. She believed in Christianity. I heard she believed in God. She was investigated in the provincial political security department, and I heard they hit her until she shed excrement. I heard they dried her out to death as not giving her a drop of water. I heard she died after suffering like a dog.”
The NKDB report corroborates previous accounts of the religious freedom restrictions in North Korea, which is ranked as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world on Open Door USA's World Watch List.
A recent report from the London-based Korea Future Initiative identified more than 200 Christians punished for crimes, including religious practice, religious activities in China, possessing religious items, contact with religious persons, attending a place of worship, and sharing religious beliefs.
In several cases, prisoners found with a Bible or religious pamphlets were executed by a firing squad, while others were locked in electrified cages and fed watery soup. Others were executed for smuggling Bible pages into the country from China for North Koreans to make prayer books.
In one instance, a victim found in possession of a Bible was publicly executed in front of over 1,000 people. The victim was tied to a wooden stake and executed by an MPS firing squad.
One witness told KFI, “I saw the flesh fall off. That is how close I was."
Another man, who had converted to Christianity, was allegedly forced into a metal cage that was just 3 feet high and 4 feet wide.
"There were steel bars on all four-sides that were heated with electricity,” he told KFI. "Usually prisoners lasted only three or four hours in the cage, but I sat there for 12 hours and prayed. I kept praying to God to save me."
The man eventually soiled himself and passed out before being beaten by guards, leaving him with severe injuries.
Pastor Eric Foley of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, who is awaiting charges for launching Bible balloons into North Korea, said that despite the crackdown on religion, “God is finding ways to get Bibles into North Korea.”
“We’re amazed at the avenues He’s opening," he said. "Please pray that continues. Pray that God is glorified."