Fact Sheet on Christians in North Korea

North Korea’s Treatment of Christians 

North Korea considers Christians a “hostile class” and enemies of the state, deserving of discrimination, punishment, and execution. 

Anyone “caught practicing religion or even suspected of harboring religious views in private is subject to severe punishment, including arrest, torture, imprisonment, and execution” reports the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. 

Sentences from 15 years to life are imposed on Christians and up to three generations of their family. Escapees reported an entire family, including a two-year old child, was sentenced to life, and a Christian woman and her grandchild killed by a firing squad. 

Christianity is a threat to the Kim family cult of personality. North Koreans are expected to study, memorize, and recite the teachings of leaders Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un. People who do not accept the Kim family as supreme authorities are severely punished. 

There are five state-controlled churches in Pyongyang. Foreigners say the activities are fake. People who linger outside to listen to the music or regularly drive past when services are held have been arrested. An escapee said officials realized that allowing music at the church and people to attend resulted in attendees becoming Christians. 

Starting in kindergarten, children are taught views against religion, especially Christianity. Textbooks teach that Christian missionaries commit “evil deeds” including rape, blood sucking, organ harvesting, murder, and spying. 

Authorities train citizens to detect people who are spreading Christianity. North Korean security forces train police to search for Christians who are organizing underground churches. Escapees who are forcibly returned from China are interrogated to find if they had any contact with Christianity. 

And yet, Christianity appears to be gradually increasing. 

Escapees from North Korea 

Covid border restrictions slowed the number of people escaping and making it to South Korea, from 1,047 in 2019 to 67 in 2022. Many escapees get stranded in China. 

China regularly forcibly returns escapees who are caught instead of letting them go to South Korea and freedom. 

Escapees who are forcibly returned face torture, detention, execution, forced abortion, and other forms of sexual violence. 

North Koreans who became believers or came in contact with Christians in China are subject to harsher treatment. Security forces are trained to actively search for people who return and spread the Gospel. 

Christians in North Korea 

Despite severe persecution, Christians in North Korea continue to follow Jesus. A secret network smuggles in Bibles and other materials. Free North Korea Radio broadcasts news and Bible programs into the country. 

In 2021, a UN investigator said there is an estimated 300 Protestant pastors in North Korea. U.S. State Department 

More North Korean escapees report they have been exposed to the Bible. Before 2000, only 16 said they had seen a Bible. After 2000, up to 559 escapees said they had seen a Bible. Database Center for North Korean Human Rights 

A secret church with nearly 100 members was discovered in 2019 in Pyongyang, the city for elites. Five were executed, seven sent to political prison camps, and 30 sentenced to hard labor. Around 50 related people, including family members, were banished to remote areas. Korea Ministry of Unification 2023 Report 

Guards beat a Christian man for praying. He continued to pray daily, even as guards clubbed and kicked him with their boots. Korea Future 

A scornful nickname for informants in North Korea is “Judas”. Christianity has been brutally banned for decades, yet people “who stab their friends in the back” are called the name of the disciple who betrayed Jesus. The nickname may be kept alive by underground Christians. Radio Free Asia 

Five Christians who met weekly for prayer and Bible study were arrested as they gathered at a farmhouse on Sunday, April 30, 2023. The believers refused to renounce their faith or tell where they got dozens of Bibles. They said, “All for Jesus, even in death.” Radio Free Asia 

Read More in ‘Getting God’s Word to North Koreans.’