A toddler in North Korea has been jailed for life after their parents were found with a Bible, according to the new International Religious Freedom Report from the US State Department.
The unnamed two-year-old child has been sentenced to life in a prison camp, with their entire family also jailed.
Their story was detailed a new report exposing multiple cases of North Koreans being killed for the Christianity, including an execution by firing squad of one woman and her grandchild in 2011.
The publication summarises the findings of various non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights groups, and the United Nations to reveal what life is like for Christians living in the country, estimating that up to 70,000 Christians are imprisoned for their faith under the Kim Jong-un regime, out of a possible population of 400,000.
In one case, a member of the ruling party was executed in front of an audience of 3,000 at Hyesan airfield after they were found in possession of a Bible.
According to the report, others also faced pigeon torture, which sees them suspended with their hands tied behind their backs, meaning they are unable to sit or stand for days on end.
“It was the most painful of all tortures,” one victim said. “It was so painful that I felt it was better to die.”
Meanwhile, some were forced to endure sleep deprivation, with one Christian woman in solitary confinement driven to suicide in 2020 after prison guards refused to let her sleep.
Others also faced starvation, dehydration, tainted food, beatings, and being made to adopt agonising positions for prolonged periods.
North Korea has argued that it guarantees its citizens religious freedom in its constitution, citing the churches it has built in Pyongyang as proof.
However, the new report argues these churches operate merely as ‘showpieces for foreigners’, saying one defector claimed people could be arrested for lingering too long outside the churches and listening to music from within – or even consistently driving past them.
Ray Cunningham, from Homer in the US state of Illinois, visited Chilgol Protestant Church in Pyongyang during a service.
He told Pen News: “I came away wondering just how real this is. Are the services regular? The church seems maintained but is it a regular event? In the society you see no evidence of religious activity – except for Buddhism.
“It feels real but like many things indeed it may be somewhat a show for tourists. In this case it might be a mixture of showmanship and a few elderly Christians in the area.”
He also noted that no children were at the services, adding: “The congregation was made up of older men – all seemingly over 65 – and women over 40.
“What you did not see were children or young working-age people.”
The report said many North Korean Christians actually hide their faith from their children, citing the finding of one NGO, Open Doors USA (ODUSA), which said: “A Christian is never safe. Children are encouraged to tell their teachers about any sign of faith in their parents’ home.”
Another NGO, Korea Future, said children were also taught in school about the ‘evil deeds’ of Christian missionaries, including ‘rape, blood sucking, organ harvesting, murder, and espionage’.
The report explained: “One defector told Korea Future that the government published graphic novels in which Christians coaxed children into churches and took them to the basement to draw their blood.”
While most of the cases of religious persecution documented by Korea Future targeted those practicing shamanism, it was Christianity that normally led to the harshest punishments.
The report claimed this was because Christians are perceived as a ‘hostile class’ and a ‘serious threat to loyalty to the state’.