North Korea publicly executed a Christian woman on 16 June for distributing the Bible, according to an Associated Press report.
Ri Hyon Ok, 33, was also accused of spying for South Korea and the United States and organising dissidents. She was executed in the north-western city of Ryongchon near the border with China, according to a report from anti-North Korea groups based in South Korea.
Ri’s parents, husband and three children were sent to a political prison camp in the north-eastern city of Hoeryong the following day, the report said. It is virtually impossible to verify such reports, since the North Korea government tightly controls the lives of its citizens and does not allow dissent.
A recent report from a state-run South Korean think-tank on human rights in the North said that public executions, though dropping in number in recent years, were still carried out for crimes ranging from murder to circulating foreign movies.
North Korea claims to guarantee freedom of religion for its 24 million people but in reality severely restricts religious observances. The cult of personality surrounding national founder Kim Il Sung and his son, current leader Kim Jong Il, has become virtually a state religion.
The Government has authorised four state churches, one Catholic, two Protestant and one Russian Orthodox, but they cater for foreigners; ordinary North Koreans cannot attend. However, defectors and activists say more than 30,000 North Koreans are believed to practise Christianity secretly.