While the Kim family regime has long punished every North Korean whom China repatriates, it reserves the harshest penalties for those believed to have had contact with Christians in China. It also has sent agents into China to kidnap South Korean pastors working with North Korean refugees including, in 2000, a pastor from Chicago who was a permanent resident of the U.S. Kim Dong-shik is believed to have died in prison in North Korea. It is unclear whether North Korea’s recent arrest of American Kenneth Jung Ho Pae for unspecified crimes against the state, confirmed Friday by the official press, is related to Mr. Pae’s reported association with a Christian organization.

The regime has stepped up the campaign against Christians in recent years. It trains police and soldiers about the dangers of religion and sends agents posing as refugees into China to infiltrate churches. Sometimes the agents even set up fake prayer meetings to catch worshipers, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Kim Jong Eun’s announcement last month of a nationwide effort to crack down on “rebellious elements” undoubtedly targets Christians, among others.

Why does the regime fear Christianity? Eom Myong-hui, who escaped from North Korea a few years ago, became a pastor in South Korea and is now living in the U.S., says that it is because Christianity points the way to freedom: “In my view, Christianity is about the individual, about accepting responsibility.” That is anathema to Pyongyang, which wants to control every aspect of its citizens’ lives.