The ‘most dangerous country’ to be a Christian: North Korea and its war on faith

Ethnic Korean Christians sing hymns in their half-finished church in the town of Yanji in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture on the China/North Korea border on Oct. 13, 2006. (PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images)

By Jocelyn Neo   April 6, 2021

The “hermit kingdom” of North Korea has willfully walled itself into isolation, making it difficult for other free societies to know what is happening inside the secretive state sitting on the east coast of communist China.

It is often through defectors that the world gets glimpses inside a country ruled by a totalitarian regime, including the harrowing accounts of its citizens and people of faith being persecuted.

The Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party] says that Christianity is like opium or drugs and has harshly punished [Christians]. Now that Falun Gong is here, people are watching closely to see how the authorities will respond.
— Anonymous source told Radio Free Asia

Persecution of Christians

North Korea has been ranked number one in the world for persecuting Christians, according to the 2021 World Watch List published by Open Doors, a watchdog organization that supports persecuted Christians. In an interview with an Open Door’s secret worker, the organization called the reclusive communist nation “the most dangerous country in the world to be a Christian.”

It estimated that out of the approximately 400,000 Christians in the country, 50,000 to 70,000 of them are detained in prisons and labor camps, the report said.

Another detailed 2020 research (pdf) by Korea Future Initiative (KFI), a nonprofit that reports on human rights violations in North Korea, documented various accounts of Christians being subjected to horrific persecution while detained or imprisoned over the period of 1990 to 2019.

Epoch Times Photo
Ethnic Korean Christians sing hymns in their half-finished church in the town of Yanji in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture on the China/North Korea border on Oct. 13, 2006. (Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)

The KFI report, “Persecuting Faith: Documenting religious freedom violations in North Korea,” is based on 117 interviews of survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators. The investigation also identified 273 victims—ranging in age from 3 years old to over 80 years old—of whom 215 are Christians.

Detainees often face “extreme violence” as a form of punishment for practicing their faith. Apart from physical and sexual assault, routine torture methods include deprivation of food and sleep, being tied up, being beaten while forced to hang on steel bars, being made to do “squat-jumps,” having a red pepper powder solution poured into the nostrils, being forced to eat “polluted food,” and being forced to witness the execution of other detainees, according to the report.

One Christian believer, who was held at North Pyongan Provincial Ministry of State Security (MSS) pre-trial detention center, recounted how “men were beaten like dogs” and they “screamed like crazy” due to the pain.

“Even though women were beaten less, I was hit in the face and my skin ruptured and I bled a lot. [MSS officers] told me to wipe the blood, so I cleaned it … I wept a lot when they hit me again,” the woman said, according to the KFI report.

The report noted that women and girls accounted for almost “60 percent of documented victims” and confirmed 32 incidents of forced abortions and sexual violence.

Citing one incident, a detainee recalled that a pregnant woman gave birth to an alive baby after being forced into an induced abortion, but MSS officials at the North Hamgyong Provincial detention center suffocated the baby using a plastic bag. The report said dead bodies of the aborted infants were usually stored on-site in a closet used for keeping maintenance tools before they were buried. Women weren’t allowed any rest period and were forced to resume labor work the next day after undergoing a forced abortion.

Sexual violence is another commonly employed torture method. The report stated that female detainees are often addressed as “bitches” and are forced to undergo “nude invasive cavity searches of their vaginas and anuses,” even girls as young as 3 years old are not spared from this humiliating physical exam, according to the KFI report.

Epoch Times Photo
A man cycles past an ethnic Korean Christian church in the town of Yanji in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture on the China/North Korea border, Oct. 13, 2006. (Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images) 

Often, religious believers and their family members are sentenced together to “political prison camps” after one is found to be practicing faith or in possession of religious items. The report said that these prison terms are “known or understood to be life sentences.”

In one case, the parent of a soldier was executed for smuggling a Bible from China into North Korea. The soldier was reported to the Border Security Command squadron and later sent to a political prison camp with remaining family members.

According to the report, Christian believers who went to China and came into contact with any local churches or religious practices are often arrested based on the details provided by MSS informants and China’s Ministry of Public Security.

Christians also revealed to investigators how China’s Ministry of Public Security marks refoulement documents “with a black stamp,” which indicates that the victim was involved in practicing Christianity in China.

Persecution of Falun Gong

North Korea, like its communist neighbor China, is also involved in the suppression of Falun Gong, a spiritual discipline that is based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.

While this peaceful meditation system flourished overseas, with over 100 million people worldwide openly practicing its five gentle exercises, the Chinese communist regime has been persecuting its followers since July 1999. To date, in the 21-year-long persecution, tens of thousands of adherents have been detained, tortured, and killed.

Epoch Times Photo
Falun Gong practitioners doing the fifth set of exercises in Central Park in Manhattan, on May 10, 2014. (Dai Bing/The Epoch Times) 

In 2019, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that the authorities in Pyongyang, North Korea, began the suppression of Falun Gong after noticing an increase in the number of people practicing it.

“The judicial authorities are struggling because the spread of Falun Gong among citizens of Pyongyang has surged beyond their expectations,” a source told RFA, adding that the police issued proclamations ordering citizens who are practicing Falun Gong to voluntarily report to the authorities or risk “harsh punishments” if caught later.

However, instead of deterring people from practicing Falun Gong, the suppression aroused people’s curiosity, as more people became interested in the practice and it has even spread to “high-ranking government officials and their families.”

“After the proclamation and subsequent crackdown, people are suddenly very interested in Falun Gong, which had already been spreading in [Pyongyang’s] underworld,” the source told RFA.

The report also said that 100 Falun Gong practitioners were arrested in the city in the first round of suppression and many who were arrested would be “sentenced to hard labor or correctional labor depending on the severity of their crimes.”

Another source compared North Korea’s suppression of Falun Gong to “a war on the religion,” reported RFA.

“The Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party] say that Christianity is like opium or drugs and have harshly punished [Christians]. Now that Falun Gong is here, people are watching closely to see how the authorities will respond,” according to the second source.

Arshdeep Sarao contributed to this report.


‘Football messed him up’: Dad of ex-NFL player Phillip Adams who killed doctor, his wife and two grandchildren before turning gun on himself insists his son was a ‘good kid’ as it’s revealed the 32-year-old suffered at least two concussions as a cornerback

Former pro-NFL player Phillip Adams suspected of carrying out a mass shooting in Rock Hill, South Carolina, that killed five. Victims named as Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70; wife Barbara, 69; grandchildren Noah,5, and Adah, 8; James Lewis, 38, who worked at Lesslies’ property, was also killed. The sixth person, Lewis’ co-worker, was shot multiple times but survived
Adams took his own life after midnight with a .45 caliber gun. Adams’ parents live next to the Lesslie family, and Dr. Lesslie used to be the football player’s physician. Adams suffered multiple injuries during his six seasons in the NFL, including concussions and a broken left ankle.

Former pro-NFL player Phillip Adams (left) has been identified as the gunman who allegedly carried out a mass shooting in Rock Hill, South Carolina, that killed five, including two children

The gunman who killed five people including a prominent doctor, his wife, and two grandchildren in South Carolina, was former NFL pro-Phillip Adams, who took his own life early Thursday, it was revealed.

A source who was briefed on the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said Adams’ parents live near the doctor’s home in Rock Hill, and that he had been treated by Dr. Robert Lesslie.

Adams, 32, a cornerback who played six seasons in the NFL and suffered multiple concussions, killed himself after midnight with a .45 caliber weapon.

Adams’ father, Alonzo Adams, confirmed to WCNC that his son was the gunman, and blamed the tragedy on his son’s being a football player.

‘I can say he’s a good kid,’ the father told the station. ‘I think the football messed him up.’

Adams is suspected of shooting dead Lesslie, 70, and his wife, Barbara Lesslie, 69, along with grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9, and Noah Lesslie, 5, and James Lewis, 38, from Gastonia, who is unrelated to the family.

The Lesslie’s were found inside their home and pronounced dead, while Lewis, who had been working at the property, was discovered outside.

Dr Lesslie was a well-known medic in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and was even the doctor of York County Sheriff's Office's spokesperson Trent Faris

This map shows the location of Lesslies' home where Robert, Barbara and their grandchildren were found dead; their property where James Lewis was killed, and the home of Adams' parents a short drive away
  • This map shows the location of Lesslies’ home where Robert, Barbara, and their grandchildren were found dead; their property where James Lewis was killed, and the home of Adams’ parents a short drive away

Police were called to the home in the Rock Hill area at around 4:45 pm after gunshots were heard. Pictured above are some members of the victims' family, including Dr Lessie (center) and wife, Barbara (pictured by his side)

Police were called to the home in the Rock Hill area at around 4:45 pm after gunshots were heard. Pictured above are some members of the victims’ family, including Dr. Lessie (center) and wife, Barbara (pictured by his side)

Adah and her brother, Noah, were the children of Dr Lesslie's son, Jeff (pictured above)

Lesslie is pictured playing the piano with his granddaughter Adah, who was among the people killed on Wednesday

A SWAT vehicle is seen at the scene of the mass shooting on Marshall Road in Rock Hill, South Carolina

Robert and Barbara Lesslie lived in a spacious home on a large tract of land with an estimated value of more than $1million (pictured)

A sixth person, who has not been named, survived the shooting despite being shot multiple times.

WSOC reported that Lewis worked at Gaston Sheet Metal Services in Gastonia and that the person who was wounded in the massacre was also an employee at GSM Services.

The company shared a post on its Facebook page on Thursday morning, addressing the shooting.

‘Both men involved in this incident are long-standing, beloved members of our family at GSM. These men embody the values we strive to achieve at GSM and are family-focused, up-beat, and wonderful team members who cared about all the people they encountered,’ read the status update.

The sheriff’s office spent hours searching for the ‘armed and dangerous suspect, later identified as Adams, before finding him at his parents’ home on Marshall Road, about a mile away from the Lesslies’ residence.

Alonso Adams, Phillip’s father said of his son that he was ‘a a good kid’ and that ‘football messed him up.’ He also revealed that Phillip had only recently relocated to Rock Hill, South Carolina

Alonso Adams, Phillip’s father, said his son had recently moved to Rock Hill from Fort Mill.

‘I don’t think he ever did anybody any harm,’ he said of his son. ‘He didn’t talk much and he didn’t bother anybody.’

Alonso added that he knew the Lesslie family and that Robert had treated him in the past.

‘All I can say is we pray for the family,’ Alonso said. ‘He used to be my doctor a long time ago. I know they were good folks down there. We’re gonna keep them in our prayers.’

Alonzo said officers came to his house on Wednesday night and led him out of the residence, where Adams killed himself.

Faris said deputies were called to the home in the Rock Hill area around 4:45 pm.

‘We are shocked that this type of incident happened here,’ Faris said.

Police used helicopters and drones to look for the shooting suspect on Wednesday

An ambulance is seen at the scene, where one person was found with serious gunshot wounds

‘None of us can figure out why,’ Faris said.

He added: ‘It doesn’t happen here. It’s one of those strange things that a lot of people are going to have a hard time understanding and we just hope that everybody understands that we’re going to do everything we can to try to figure out why this happened here in Rock Hill, South Carolina.’

Faris said Dr. Lesslie was a prominent figure in Rock Hill.

‘I’ve lived in Rock Hill my entire life and Dr. Lesslie was my doctor growing up,’ Faris said. ‘Dr. Lesslie has been one of those people that everybody knows. He started Riverview Medical Center in Rock Hill and it’s been a staple in Rock Hill for years.’

Phillip Adams (24) of the New York Jets reacts to breaking up a pass intended for Emmanuel Sanders (10) of the Denver Broncos during the second quarter of action at MetLife Stadium

Atlanta Falcons defensive back Phillip Adams arrives for an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, in Nashville in 2015

Adams (left and right) was a football cornerback who played in the NFL. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers

This photo shows the $170,000 home on Marshall Road belonging to Adams' parents

Adams, a cornerback out of South Carolina State, was a seventh-round NFL Draft pick in 2010. Although he was never a standout in the league, he did play in 78 games over five seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, and Atlanta Falcons.

His best seasons came in his two years in Oakland, where he appeared in 31 games and recorded a pair of interceptions.

Rarely a starter, Adams finished his career with the Falcons in 2015.

Adams earned just over $3million over parts of his six NFL seasons, according to

Adams suffered multiple injuries over the course of his football career, including a pair of concussions, which he sustained while playing for the Oakland Raiders in 2012. Despite that, he only missed one game that season.

Raider’s spokespeople in Las Vegas did not immediately respond to’s request for comment on Thursday.

As a rookie late in the 2010 season, Adams suffered a severe ankle injury that required surgery that included several screws being inserted into the leg. He never played for the 49ers again, getting released just before the 2011 season began and signing with New England. Only in 2013 with the Raiders was he on a roster for a full season.

Adams had a criminal record, which included an arrest in 2009 on charges of misdemeanor assault and battery, although he was not convicted. He was also arrested in Charlotte for carrying a concealed gun in 2016.

Robert and Barbara had been married for more than 35 years

Lesslie described himself in his bio as, among other things, a caretaker of donkeys and goats

Lesslie authored several non-fiction books, including Angels in the ER

The Lesslie family lived on a large property with an estimated value of more than $1million, according to They bought the home in 2002.

Phillip Adams’ parents reside in a home located just a 2 minutes drive from the Lesslie’s. That property has an estimated value of just over $170,000.

A biography page of Dr. Lesslie stated he and his wife of 35 years raised four children, including son Jeff, who is the father of Adah and Noah. He works as an administrator at his father’s practice, Riverview Hospice and Palliative Care.

He described himself as a ‘believer, husband, father, grandfather, physician, friend and caretaker of golden retrievers, donkeys, ponies & goats, gardener and lover of the outdoors, bagpiper, golfer (significantly handicapper), author.’

Lesslie had been practicing medicine in Rock Hill since 1981

He and wife Barbara are survived by their four children

Lesslie (left and right) had been practicing medicine in Rock Hill since 1981. He and wife Barbara are survived by their four children

This photo showing Dr Lesslie, his wife and their two grandchildren who perished in the massacre on Wednesday (circled in red)

Dr. Lesslie had been practicing in Rock Hill since 1981, according to the Riverview website.

He received his degree at the Medical University of South Carolina and had worked in the surrounding Rock Hill area and in emergency rooms in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He founded Riverview Housecalls and Riverview Hospice and Palliative Care.

He was the author of several non-fiction books about stories from the emergency room, including Angles in the ER.

In that book, he wrote: ’25 years in the ER have taught me a lot of things. I know without a doubt that life is fragile.’

Rock Hill is a city in northernmost South Carolina about 25 miles southwest of Charlotte, North Carolina. Boasting a population of more than 66,000 people, Rock Hill is the largest city in York County.

Rock Hill is a manufacturing city that offers scenic riverfront views along the Catawaba River, and it is home to three colleges, including Winthrop University.

According to the latest data, Rock Hill’s crime rates were 61 percent higher than the national average.