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10/18/2023 North Korea (International Christian Concern) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is set to visit the isolated country of North Korea on Wednesday and Thursday. His visit comes on the heels of a rare in-person meeting in Russia between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jon Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September. 

Russia is a critical lifeline for North Korea, which is mostly choked off from the rest of the world economy by a raft of international sanctions designed to pressure the totalitarian regime on its failing human rights record. North Korea, for its part, views separation from the outside world as an essential part of its foreign policy and works vigorously to stamp out religion within its borders, including “Western” Christianity. 

Independent thought is strictly prohibited in North Korea, with religious belief a particular target of state censors. Anyone caught with a Bible, listening to Christian broadcasts from South Korea on the radio, or even in private prayer is subject to severe punishment. Those caught, and often their families and friends as well, are swept away and held indefinitely in one of North Korea’s many political prisons, where they are exposed to the most extreme human depravity imaginable.  

Severe torture is common in North Korean prisons, with survivors reporting particularly harsh treatment for religious prisoners. Mothers are made to watch as their children are murdered, and inmates are sold to Russia to work as laborers in large, state-run projects in Siberian-based work camps that help to raise desperately needed cash for the North Korean state. 

Religious freedom advocates around the world have long called attention to the atrocities taking place in North Korea. Currently led by Kim Jong Un, the authoritarian regime aggressively prosecutes anyone deemed to be working against the interests of the state. Actions as simple as praying, talking about the Bible, and sharing one’s faith can lead to beatings, years of imprisonment, and even torture.  

A UN report highlights several areas of particular concern, including extremely harsh conditions in the country’s prison system and the torture of prisoners of conscience. The North Korean government, the report states, “is engaged in a systematic and widespread attack against people considered a threat to the country’s political system and leadership, including people who practice [sic] religion.” As part of this attack, people exercising their religion are “systematically imprisoned without due process and are subjected to harsh treatment for exercising basic human rights.”  

Despite the persecution, former North Korean prisoners report that some Christians are courageous enough to share the Gospel with their fellow inmates, host silent prayer gatherings, and share contraband scripture at the risk of their lives. It is essential that the international community, including South Korea, band together to push for the advancement of human rights in North Korea. North Korea’s many innocent civilians deserve no less. 

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