North Korea has once again claimed the top spot in Open Doors' annual report, highlighting countries where Christians endure the most extreme persecution.
The World Watch List 2024 revealed Christians in the East Asian country, whether from before the Korean War or those who discovered Christianity during the 1990s famine in China, continue to face a grim fate.
Discovery, identification, or even perceived association with Christianity places individuals and their families at risk of deportation to labour camps as political criminals, or immediate execution.
Campaigners say sometimes the crimes can be minor or unintentional.
“A young man was wearing a Union Jack t-shirt, showing a cross in the middle, and because of that, a North Korea guard sent him to a prison camp,” Timothy Cho, North Korean escapee and Open Doors Partner told Premier.
“This was just the Union Jack flag, but they didn't regard that it was a nation flag. They thought he was a Christian.”
The 'Anti-reactionary Thought law,' passed by North Korea in December 2020, catapulted the country back to the prime position on the list last year, after briefly being surpassed by Afghanistan in 2022.
Articles 28 and 29 designate being a Christian or possessing a Bible as a "serious crime" punishable by severe penalties.
“It’s a survival [tactic] of the regime itself,” Cho, continued.
“Christianity itself is perceived as a national security risk and threat because it talks about love and servant leadership. They know this book [the Bible] explores much of the truth. North Korean authorities know that when many people read this Bible and follow God, it means the authoritarian regime itself cannot live any longer,” he continued.
Cho says the churches in Pyongyang shown to visitors are just for show and propaganda purposes, but don't allow real religious expression.
Open Doors estimates there are 400,00 Christians in North Korea, although reliable and precise data is hard to obtain.
Cho, who is a North Korean escapee himself, concluded: “Please pray that servant leadership would come to North Korea. I haven't abandoned our hopes and dreams to see a free North Korea United Korean Peninsula.”