Just possessing a Bible still can be cause for a death penalty in North Korea, so it’s no surprise that the hermit kingdom remains No. 1 on this year’s World Watch List of the world’s most notorious persecutors of Christians, a project assembled by Open Doors USA.
Persecution of believers also increased sharply across Africa, eight out of 10 worst offenders are ruled by Muslim theocracy and Egypt, under the Muslim Brotherhood, actually saw its ranking lowered, but not because of any improvement there. It was because of worsening conditions elsewhere, the report said.
In North Korea, a possible lesser penalty for someone having a Bible would be for the offender, and three generations of his or her family, to be sent to prison camps, where at estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people are held.
Open Doors’ Senior Communications Specialist Paul Estabrook says the reclusive communist dictatorship earned the ranking based on the group’s five criteria for evaluating a country.
“North Korea doesn’t allow Christians any freedom in any of the five spheres used in the process,” Estabrook said.
“We use five spheres, the private, family, community, congregational, and public. … North Korea doesn’t allow Christians any freedom,” Estabrook said.
In addition, the dictatorship maintains a gulag, he noted.
“North Korea is known to have somewhere between 50,000 to 70,000 Christians in forced labor camps. And they’re there for doing nothing except trying to worship the Lord,” Estabrook said.
That aligns with what WND reported in July, that under newly installed leader Kim Jong-un, the enigmatic nation of North Korea still has about 70,000 people in work camps.
Sources confirmed North Korea has eased or lifted a number of restrictions for citizens since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father, Kim Jong-il. Bans have been lifted on Western foods such as pizza and french fries, and restrictions on the number of cell phones have been loosened, for example, according to Ryan Morgan, an analyst with International Christian Concern Asia.
However, whatever secular benefits may have trickled down to residents of the isolated nation, there is no evidence of any improvement in the condition of the persecuted church there, he said.
“We have not heard any reports of improvement for Christians in the country and have no reason to believe anything has changed,” Morgan said. “The regime still has up to 70,000 Christians locked away in virtual concentration camps.”
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