Christians ‘Crushed Under Steamroller’ and ‘Hung on a Cross Over Fire’ in North Korea

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A new report released last week by the British-based human rights advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide has revealed more horrific details on how the authoritarian North Korean regime tortures, mutilates and kills Christians.

While it is no secret that that the regime of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has thrown tens of thousands of Christians in political prison camps, where they have been subjected to hard labor, torture and have even been killed, details are often left out on just how North Korea victimizes its own citizens for going against the will of the regime.

In a 15-page report titled Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea, CSW reports that although North Korea is a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, freedom of religion is one right that is “largely non-existent” in the country.

“Denial of this right has occurred since the 1950s, and the current leader, Kim Jong-un, continues to violate citizens’ religious freedom,” the report explains. “Religious beliefs are seen as a threat to the loyalty demanded by the supreme leader, so anyone holding these beliefs is severely persecuted. Christians suffer significantly because of the anti-revolutionary and imperialist labels attached to them by the country’s leadership.”

Although the South Korea-based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights finds that there are at least 123 religious institutions in North Korea, most of them are Buddhist or Cheondoist temples. Even though there are three Protestant churches, one Catholic cathedral and a Russian Orthodox church in the capital of Pyongyang, those state-sponsored churches are only there for propaganda purposes.

According to CSW, Lord David Alton and Baroness Caroline Cox, who visited the churches, found during their visit to the Catholic church that there wasn’t even a priest.

“Although the buildings and religious services appear to suggest some degree of freedom of religion or belief, that freedom is extremely limited and may be aimed primarily at visitors and foreigners,” the CSW report states. “All the churches are found in Pyongyang and there is no record of church buildings existing anywhere else.”

Although the spreading of the Gospel is forbidden in North Korea, as is it considered a crime against the state, many North Koreans are exposed to Christianity through family ties, missionaries or external religious organizations and charities.

Many North Korean Christians have to undertake their worship and other religious activity in secret. They either worship individually or at non-official house churches. Believers who are caught worshiping, running non-sanctioned churches or carrying non-sanctioned religious material are often arrested and hauled away to political prison camps.

“Crimes against them in these camps include extra-judicial killing, extermination, enslavement/forced labor, forcible transfer of population, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance, rape and sexual violence, and other inhumane acts,” the CSW report adds.

“Documented incidents against Christians include being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot,” the report continues. “A policy of guilt by association applies, meaning that the relatives of Christians are also detained regardless of whether they share the Christian belief. Even North Koreans who have escaped to China, and who are or become Christians, are often repatriated and subsequently imprisoned in a political prison camp.”

North Korea Freedom Protest(PHOTO: THE CHRISTIAN POST/SAMUEL SMITH)
North Korea human rights activists protest outside the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. on Save North Koreans Day, Sept. 23, 2016.

 

 

This is not the first time that it has been reported that the North Korean government has used steamrollers to crush Christians. According to an eyewitness, five men accused of running a non-sanctioned church were crushed to death by a steamroller in 1996.

Suzanne Scholte, the chair of the North Korea Freedom Coalition and vice co-chair of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, told The Christian Post on Tuesday that CSW’s report is an “accurate representation of how Christians are especially persecuted.”

“I have personally interviewed defectors who experienced torture and abuse simply because it had been rumored that they had become Christians,” Scholte wrote in an email. “We also know that when refugees are repatriated from China to North Korea, if it is discovered that they have been exposed to Christians, this can lead to death.”

“Because the DPRK regime was set up so that North Koreans are raised to worship the Kims as their gods, there is nothing the regime fears more than the spread of Christianity,” she continued. “The knowledge of the one true God is the greatest threat to the regime.”

Scholte believes that North Korea’s animosity toward Christianity came as a result of the fact that former supreme leader Kim Il-sung was raised a Christian and saw the power of the Christian faith in standing up to the Japanese occupation.

“Kim set himself up as a god, perverting the holy trinity with Kim Jong-il as the Christ and juche as the Holy Spirit,” Scholte explained. “North Koreans are taught from childhood to give prayers of thanks to their father, Kim Il-sung, to say a perverted version of the Apostles creed to their great leader, and to study their ideology in thousands of centers across North Korea.”

For the past 14 years, North Korea has ranked as the worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.

 

North Korea(PHOTO: KCNA VIA REUTERS)

A rally celebrating the success of a recent nuclear test is held in Kim Il Sung square in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang September 13, 2016

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Open Doors’ annual list of countries where Christians face the worst persecution:

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Each year, Open Doors releases a list of the top 50 countries where Christians are facing the worst persecution because of their faith. The Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) is the only annual survey of religious liberty conditions of Christians around the world, and measures freedom in five key areas of life: private, family, community, national and church life, plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence.

PERSECUTION RISES WORLDWIDE IN A LAWLESS YEAR 

The most oppressive regime in contemporary times, North Korea, tops this year’s Open Doors World Watch List for the 14th consecutive year. Eritrea and Pakistan rise to their highest levels, to #3 and #6 respectively, and lawless Libya also enters the top 10 for the first time ever. Islamic extremism constitutes the main persecuting force in thirty five of the top fifty countries, with Religious nationalism and Dictatorial paranoia also rising sharply. The degree of persecution of Christians was confirmed to be rising, with Open Doors’ researchers recording an average persecution increase of 2.6 points in this year’s Top 50 compared to last year.

The Open Doors World Watch List is published every January and lists the 50 countries worldwide where Christians experience the most persecution. Persecution is understood as any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians. Research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF).

In the reporting period (1 November 2014 – 31 October 2015) the Top Ten countries where Christians find it hardest to practice their faith are: North Korea (92 pts), Iraq (90 pts), Eritrea (89 pts), Afghanistan (88 pts), Syria (87 pts), Pakistan (87 pts), Somalia (87 pts), Sudan (84 pts), Iran (83 pts) and Libya (79 pts).

Eritrea and Pakistan – Two major risers in the Top Ten

Dubbed the “North Korea of Africa”, Eritrea ranks among the very worst countries in terms of freedom of religion, freedom of press, rule of law and other human rights records. Driving the persecution of Christians is first and foremost president Afewerki’s Dictatorial paranoia. Any Christian who dares to speak up in Eritrea and protest the treatment of Christians is jailed or arrested no matter what their status. The former Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonius, has been under house arrest since 2007 for speaking out. According to a UNHCR report from November 2014, 22 per cent of all refugees reaching Italy by boat are Eritrean. “Eritrean Christians, even though they know that there is a very high probability of falling into the hands of traffickers and ruthless radical groups like the IS, are still desperate to escape from Eritrea”, one researcher confirmed.

The world’s second largest Muslim country, Pakistan has risen to #6 and is the only country getting the maximum score in the violence category in the World Watch List together with Nigeria. The level of pressure is high in all spheres of life and persecution does not come from the State as much as from radical Islamic groups. The reporting period started with the killing of a Christian couple, working in a brick kiln on 4 November 2014 by a furious mob and climaxed in a twin bomb attack on two churches in Lahore on 15 March 2015, leaving 25 dead and wounding dozens. This overt violence conceals the everyday abuse of Christian girls who are frequently abducted, raped, forced to marry and convert, and the country’s 3.8 million Christians feel increasingly under threat in their daily lives.

Newcomers in the Top 50 – Niger and Bahrain

The entry score for the Top 50 has risen by almost 5 points, which sends out a very worrying signal and shows that the World Watch List is really just a record of the tip of an iceberg. The WWL 2016 contains only two newcomers: Niger and Bahrain enter at #49 and #48 respectively. For Niger, the spread of Boko Haram into its territory has caused violence against and fear among Christians to rise sharply. In Bahrain, the sultan’s gradual introduction of Sharia law has already begun to seriously restrict the public witness of Christian faith in the country.

These two new entries have ousted Sri Lanka and Mauritania from the Top 50, which were outflanked this year by rises in persecution in other countries. Despite leaving the official listing, the situation for these countries has not improved. In Sri Lanka churches are still being attacked by local Buddhist communities, despite fresh hopes of protection for religious minorities being placed in the recently elected new government. Mauritania is one of only four official “Islamic Republics” in the world, and the influence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mauritania is growing. The monitoring of all Christian activity has continued but happily violence has been very low in the reporting period.

The Smash and Squeeze

The Open Doors World Watch List is unique not only as the instrument that measures the persecution of Christians annually, buts its methodology is designed to track how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed in five distinct areas – private life, family life, community life, national life and church life, as well as covering violence such as rapes, killings and church burnings. Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Director of Research at Open Doors International, explains why: “It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all, and so you may find very low levels of violence as a result since incidents of persecution often result from acts of witness.”

The countries that show where this squeeze was most intensive were: Somalia, North Korea, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Maldives, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Syria. The highest levels of violence directed against Christians (in countries listed in WWL 2016) were in Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, Egypt, Mexico, Sudan and India.

Open Doors records show that worldwide there were well over 7,000 Christians killed for faith-related reasons in the reporting period. That is a rise of almost 3,000 in comparison to conservative figures from the WWL 2015 period. This is excluding North Korea, and partly Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist. Statistics also show that more than 2,400 churches were attacked or damaged, which is over double the number for last year.

In Nigeria news of violence has been dominated by the brutality of the radical Islamic militants, Boko Haram. But as Frans Veerman, the Director of the WWL Unit explains, even without Boko Haram, “that would still leave the Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen regularly committing atrocities against indigenous Christian farmers in the Middle Belt states. Out of the more than 4,000 Christians who lost their lives in attacks in Nigeria in the reporting period, 2,500 are attributed to Boko Haram and not less than 1,500 to the Hausa-Fulani herdsmen. At least 30,000 Christians have been displaced through the violence in Taraba State alone. These are the results of fact-finding on the ground but the researchers estimate that

they uncovered only 50% of the atrocities committed. This is looking like ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation.”

Christians in conflict hotspots – Iraq, Yemen, Kenya

The conflict zones of the world are very often regions where Christians are especially vulnerable. Whilst the world media fixes its attention to the battles and bombings, in the background the Islamic State (IS) is radicalizing populations even in countries where it has no apparent presence. The Kurdish region of north Iraq (which has risen 4 points to #2) is currently acting as a safe haven for thousands of Christian refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. But even there, the government is ordering land to be sold to Muslim families in several predominantly Christian areas and towns. This “demographic reversal process” in many majority Christian areas is forcing Christians to live precariously in a minority situation – or leave. In Yemen (#11), which missed entering the Top 10 by just one point, Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy war. Virtually all Western expatriates have fled the civil war, leaving just a few thousand brave Muslim Background Believers in the country. The Church is holding on by the skin of its teeth.

Another region with an increasingly radicalized Muslim population are the northern and coastal areas of Kenya, which has risen 5 points to #16. Attacks from al-Shabaab adherents killed 28 Christians on a bus from Mandera on 22 November 2014. 36 Christian quarry workers were killed on 2 December 2014, again in Mandera; 147 Christian university students in Garissa were killed on 2 April 2015, and 14 Christian quarry workers were killed in Mandera on 7 July 2015. Most of these were “execution-style” killings and Christians were targeted specifically by separating them from Muslims. It is to be feared that the situation for Christians will continue to deteriorate, especially as pressure in all spheres of life is high.

Central Asia – Rising persecution through surveillance of terror networks

Christians living in Central Asian states have seen a sharp deterioration in their religious freedom, especially as these governments increase their surveillance and control on all groups in society, often cynically citing a need to crack down on Islamist inspired terror. Uzbekistan is a perennial occupant of the top 20 (at #15) with Turkmenistan joining it at #19, and Tajikistan (at #31 moving up from #45) and Azerbaijan (at #34 from #46) constituting some of this year’s significant risers.

The goal – Supporting the people behind the figures

The Open Doors World Watch List is published annually as a tool 1) for media to raise awareness 2) for politicians to make informed decisions and 3) for churches around the world to support and pray for their brothers and sisters on the frontline. World maps displaying the spread of persecution against Christians and further detailed information on the situation in specific countries are available from all Open Doors offices.

For 60 years, Open Doors has worked to strengthen Christians in the world’s most oppressive and restrictive countries. The WWL has also been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom to help make the information gathering and calculation process more transparent.

Access the World Watch Map Here

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Open Doors World Watch List 2015

wwl map 2015

The World Watch List ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith. The list is compiled from a specially-designed questionnaire of 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom. A point value is assigned depending on how each question is answered. The total number of points per country determines its position on the World Watch List of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. The World Watch List lists the 50 countries where faith costs the most. The list is based on detailed information from Open Doors co-workers in over 65 countries, as well as independant experts. Worldwide, the List reports an overall increase in the persecution of Christians in 2014. 

The Open Doors’ WWL 2015 tracks a marked increase in persecution for Christian communities in a large number of African states. Sudan, Eritrea and Nigeria make their appearance in the Top 10. Kenya and Djibouti have marked the steepest climb on the list, and Tanzania and Eritrea also scored significantly higher compared to 2014.

While Africa saw the most rapid growth of persecution, the Middle East saw targeted attacks, resulting in a mass exodus of Christians. In forty countries of the Top 50, Islamic extremism was a major source of persecution. It would be fair to say that the WWL 2015 again shows that the persecution of Christians seems to become more intense in more countries of the world. Approximately 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making them one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While persecution can take many forms, Christians throughout the world risk imprisonment, torture, rape and even death as result of their faith.

World Watch List 2015 – Top 10 Countries – Including Summaries