A North Korean toddler and the child’s parents were sentenced to life in prison after officials located a Bible in the family’s possession.
According to a 2022 report by the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report, the incident happened back in 2009. The entire family, including a two-year-old child, was sentenced to life in a political prison camp based on their religious practices and possession of a Bible.
People caught with The Bible are eligible for the death penalty in North Korea, while their family members can be sentenced to life in prison. It’s estimated that as many as 70,000 Christians are imprisoned.
While the country’s constitution allows for freedom of religious belief, that is not the reality under Supreme Leader Kim Jung Un. A few officially registered religious institutions exist but operate under strict state control.
“In its 2021 report, KINU [Korea Institute for National Unification] stated the government continued to use state-approved religious institutions for ‘political propaganda’ targeted at foreign visitors, with regular citizens strictly barred from entering the facilities,” the report states.
In the case of a Protestant church in Pyongyang, several hundred citizens were selected to participate in “fake church services” for the benefit of foreign guests. Local residents consider the locations to be tourist spots.
Instead, the government routinely executes, tortures, arrests, and physically abuses citizens for their religious practices. People in North Korea are sent to training camps, political prison camps, and regular prisons.
COVID-19 restrictions on travel played a part in limiting information about current conditions and made details of abuse scarce. The State Department worked with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights groups, and the UN to substantiate abuse claims.