Forced abortions, executions and torture: A sickening new report from North Korea

February 3, 2021 by Christopher Summers in Persecution updates

North Korea is a notorious example of persecution against Christians.


Believers are imprisoned, beaten and even executed.


It’s been No. 1 on the World Watch List for 20 years.


And a new report makes it clear just how bad the situation is.

The report, released by the non-profit Korea Future Initiative, is based on 117 interviews they conducted in 2019 and 2020. The witnesses report 273 victims. Respondents also say there were:

  • 244 incidents of arbitrary arrest (which means there was no likelihood or evidence of a crime or no due process of law—depriving people of liberty and their rights)
  • 79 incidents of forced return to North Korea by refugees;
  • 36 incidents of torture or sustained physical assault;
  • 32 incidents of sexual violence;
  • 20 incidents of execution

These findings echo the stories Open Doors has heard for years. There are so many stories of North Korean Christians who are put in labor camps for their faith and who experience horrific conditions. Hea Woo, an ex-prisoner whose husband died for his faith in prison, remembers:

“There were different parts within the prison. Some [sectors] did agriculture, some did construction work, some did mining. Men and women were separated; all the inmates seemed like they were about to faint,” she told Open Doors. “They were all hopeless and in despair. And plus, they were starving. Each person received one handful of rotten corn, [and] there was nothing else to eat. We got something watery—it wasn’t even a soup. We got those [rotten kernels] as food for the whole year. Nothing else. And people are obliged to work more than cows or animals. Because everyone is forced to do labor, people die from malnutrition. People died in accidents while working, too.”

An escape to a new kind of horror

Even if Christians manage to escape North Korea and reach China, the situation is still dangerous. According to the findings of the Korea Future Initiative report, “the investigation documented 110 incidents where persons experienced criminal charges based on their religious activities in China that were not in accordance with due process or where the grounds for criminal proceedings were likely unlawful and at odds with fundamental human rights.” The report found that horrific treatment happened to North Koreans in China, as well as to those who were sent back to North Korea, where prison awaited them.

An unnamed woman, “Prisoner 42,” whose stories are based on real accounts of North Korean prisoners, tells what it’s like for North Koreans who manage to flee. “One day, I was walking along the street in China and a black car pulled up next to me,” she remembers. “I thought the man wanted to ask for directions, but the driver and other men stepped out of the vehicle and grabbed me. I resisted but couldn’t get away. They pushed me into the car and, when the door closed and the car drove away, I realized my life was over.

“After a few weeks in a Chinese prison cell, I was handed over to the North Korean authorities. They brought me to this detention center. I had to strip off all my clothes and they searched every part of my body to see if I had hidden anything, money especially.”

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Where is God?

Regardless of where they are caught and why they are imprisoned, the reality of life for North Korean Christians is staggering in its brutality. The report tells of sudden imprisonment, violent interrogations, execution and even forced abortions. The detail of the atrocities is staggering.

And yet, the report also offers a reminder of what God is doing even in the midst of such daily horror. One respondent in the report remembered: “Even though women were beaten less, I was hit in the face and my skin ruptured and I bled a lot … I wept a lot when they hit me again. Blood and discharge ruptured during my next pre-trial examination. They hit me again because I wept. I do not know if it was God, but the wound healed by the next pre-trial examination.”

Another powerful reminder of God’s work in North Korean labor camps is detailed in the report:

Investigators documented incidents where prisoners shared their religious beliefs in prison. One respondent explained how a fellow prisoner [evangelized] in Chongori long-term re-education camp and [spoke in tongues] in their cell, which the respondent recognized as being passages from the Bible.

“Other prisoners in the cell did not know what this person was doing under the blanket, but I knew,” the respondent said. Another witness recalled how a prisoner told her, “‘God sent me here for you.’” She recalled, “eventually I listened to her […] she was a light that came and warmed me when I was drowning in my sorrow […] I would have killed myself if it were not for her.”

These powerful glimpses of God’s faithfulness are a reminder of how He reaches His people, no matter what—creative and beautiful ways beyond anything we could fathom. Even when Christians are targeted and beaten because of their faith—or in the case of North Korean prison camps, facing certain death—He is there.

Here’s how you can pray for Christians in North Korea:

  • Pray for the estimated 50,000-70,000 Christians in North Korea who are detained or are in prisons or labor camps. Pray they would have glimpses of God in the day-to-day horror of their lives.
  • Pray for the secret gatherings of believers who meet in the prison camps. Ask that God would sustain them, help them stay safe and that He would allow them to share their faith.
  • Ask God to touch the prison guards and North Korean leaders. Pray that He would soften their hearts and bring them to repentance and faith in Jesus.
  • Pray for Christians throughout North Korea, that they would sense they belong to a worldwide Church that stands with them in prayer. Ask that God’s perfect love, peace and hope would strengthen their hearts and give them a reason for joy.
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