According to the Christian Open Doors organization, North Korea is the leader among countries who persecute Christians. Christian Solidarity Worldwide say there are numerous reports of people being sent to prison camps and subjected to torture and inhuman treatment because of their faith. It is estimated that 50,000–70,000 Christians are held in North Korean prison camps.
There are reports of public executions of Christians. For example, Ri Hyon-ok was publicly executed in Ryongchon … for giving out Bibles, while her husband and children were deported to the Hoeryong political prison camp.
If authorities discover that North Korean refugees deported from China have converted to Christianity, they suffer harsher ill-treatment, torture, and prolonged imprisonment. The government considers religious activities political crimes, because they could challenge the personality cult and semi-deification of the [ruling] Kim family.
Only 60 out of 400 Buddhist temples have survived the religious persecution of the 1950s, when 1,600 monks were killed, disappeared in prison camps or were forced to recant their faith. The remaining temples are now preserved as national cultural heritage. North Korean defectors reported that government-employed “monks” are serving as caretakers and tourist guides, but they did not see genuine worship. As reported, most Buddhists are afraid to openly practice their religion in the temple areas and practice their religion only in secret. However, on special occasions, ceremonies were permitted by the authorities.
Since 1988, four church buildings have been erected in Pyongyang with foreign donations: one Catholic, two Protestant and one Russian Orthodox. However, they are only open to foreigners,and North Korean citizens cannot attend the services. The services are used to bring in foreign currency from foreign visitors, including South Koreans. It is therefore clear that the churches are there solely for propaganda purposes.
The North Korean constitution nominally protects religious freedom, as long as it is not used to harm the state or the social order. However, in practice, there is no genuine religious freedom, and the government severely restricts religious activity except if it is supervised by government organizations.