Only four percent of North Korean defectors had seen a Bible in the country, according to a new State Department report, which also said the Communist government continues to “deal harshly with those who [engage] in almost any religious practices through executions, torture, beatings, and arrests.”

Additionally, an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 citizens are being held in political prison camps, and many for religious reasons, according to the report.

The data was included in the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, which was released Tuesday and included findings for every country in the world. The report on North Korea was particularly eye-opening.

The U.S. government estimates the North Korean population at 25.2 million. United Nation estimates say there are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians in the country.

“Defector accounts indicated religious practitioners often concealed their activities from neighbors, coworkers, and other members of society due to fear their activities would be reported to the authorities,” the report said. “… Religious and human rights groups outside the country continued to provide numerous reports that members of underground churches were arrested, beaten, tortured, and killed because of their religious beliefs.”

International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and North Korean defectors reported that “praying, singing hymns, and reading the Bible” could “lead to severe punishment, including imprisonment in political prison camps.”

A 2014 North Korean government document states that “Freedom of religion is allowed and provided by the State law within the limit necessary for securing social order, health, social security, morality and other human.”


Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com