Missionaries have sought to evangelize in North Korea, as the totalitarian country forbids independent religious activities. Although North Korea contains a number of state-controlled churches, they are considered for show to international audiences, according to a report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea.
Religion, especially Christianity, is viewed as a political threat because the state does not condone any belief system other than its official state ideology, according to the report.
Witnesses claim that underground churches function inside North Korea, according to the U.N. report. Also, missionaries and underground churches have secretly set up in China near the border to aid defectors.
North Korea is currently holding Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American, who was arrested in November 2012. Bae was sentenced in May 2013, accused of trying to topple the North Korean government and bringing religious activities into the country. He has remained in North Korean custody despite efforts by the U.S. and his family.
More recently, North Korea’s Supreme Court sentenced a South Korean man to life of hard labor for committing “hostile acts” against the country, according to its state-run news agency, KCNA. The South Korean, identified as Kim Jong Uk, averted the death sentence because he allegedly “repented of his crimes,” which included an attempt to set up an underground church inside the country.
Kim said he had worked as a missionary for several years on the Chinese side of the border with North Korea, running a church that sought North Korean converts.