Growing up Christian, I would always hear of far away countries where people would be imprisoned for reading the Bible. Today I wondered about that. Are there really any countries that imprison people for reading the Bible, or is it perhaps groups religious groups within these countries that will persecute Christians?

I found a similar question about countries where the Bible is banned, but it seems like there is not a single country that has a total ban, other than North Korea, which bans all religious texts, not just the Bible.

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    Some countries spring to mind but it would be good to have a documented catalogue available, if such a thing exists or can be collated. Excellent question. +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 7:48
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    Also of note is that if a country is so oppressive that it will imprison you for a mere possession of a Bible, they might not even have an official law about it, or they might even officially deny it, to keep up appearances. Such countries are known to try to pretend that they are free and democratic, and despite no law explicitly forbidding something, you can still be imprisoned or tortured on made-up charges (or no charges at all) if you do something they don't like.
    – vsz
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 15:13
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    "...or is it perhaps religious groups within these countries that will persecute Christians?" In some of the middle-eastern nations where the national government is controlled by a religious group, and that government does not stop (or do much of anything about it) members of the religious group from imprisoning, torturing, or executing Christians, then it essentially is almost as if the government itself is sponsoring the activity. More middle-eastern nations should be listed in answers here, as their actions speak louder than their official words.
    – Loduwijk
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 18:01
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    Not really an answer but more of a resource really - take a look at opendoorsuk.org/persecution/countries - they update each year with the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 8:59

3 Answers 3


Countries which ban the possession of the bible include:

Saudi Arabia

At present, the Bible has been banned in Saudi Arabia. In a number of countries, bible translation, distribution, sale or promotion is prohibited or made difficult, and the Bible may be considered extremist materials. Historically, some countries banned the Bible in certain languages or versions. The Bible in Spanish was prohibited in Spain from the sixteenth until the nineteenth century. In 1234, King James I of Aragon ordered the burning of Bibles in the vernacular. In 2015, Russia banned import of the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. - List of books banned by governments

North Korea

People found with Christian Bibles, which are considered to be a symbol of the west can be executed or tortured. Refugees and defectors continued to allege that they witnessed the arrests and execution of members of underground Christian churches by the regime in prior years. Due to the country's inaccessibility and the inability to gain timely information, this activity remains difficult to verify. - Freedom of religion in North Korea

More on North Korea:

In this totalitarian state, the only thing that North Koreans are permitted to worship is the nation's leader, Kim Jong-un. Bibles are banned and those found in possession of one, face imprisonment, torture and even death – as do up to three generations of their family. - Source


Christians residing in Somalia face constant persecution from radical Islamists and government officials. The prevalence of the Islamic extremist group, al-Shabaab means that believers often practise their faith in extreme secrecy and cannot own Bibles. - Source


The Maldives have a reputation for being a luxurious idyll but a Bible can get you into trouble in this paradise. Under the country's strict Islamic laws, importing a Bible is forbidden. There is currently no complete translation of the Bible into Dhivehi, the official language of the tropical nation. - Source


It's against the law to carry a Bible translated into Arabic in Morocco. Reports of overt Christian persecution are few but Christian children are not given a religious education. - Source


Like Morocco, Libya has laws against bringing Bibles in the Arabic language into the country. The distribution of Bibles and evangelism is illegal. - Source


In this Central Asian dictatorship, high penalties are imposed on those who own Bibles. Authorities are known to detain Christians found in possession of the holy book for "keeping and storing extremist materials with the purpose of further distribution." - Source

Christian Persecution On The Rise In Uzbekistan Where Just Owning A Bible Is Illegal

Open Doors profiles annually 50 countries “where Christians face the most extreme persecution.”

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    What are the punishments for owning a bible in Saudi Arabia? Your citation only tells something about Spain and Russia.
    – K-HB
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 13:24
  • @K-HB : indeed. The OP asked about the current situation, and as Saudi Arabia seems to be a current example, it would be good to know more about it. For example, is only the sale, distribution or promotion banned, and is it fine for foreign visitors to have a Bible in their luggage? Or can they get in trouble for mere possession?
    – vsz
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 15:07
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    According to 2001-2009.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2008/108492.htm and travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/… section Faith-Related Travel Issues owning a Bible may pose some risk of arbitrary punishment, but the US department of state (which is reponsible for travel warnings and such) does not specifically advise travelers not to bring a Bible and the Saudi government has stated that personal non-muslim religious possessions are tolerated.
    – Nobody
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 18:22
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    Russia has a federal law that prohibits the Bible from being marked as extremist (source), yet the New World Translation is marked as extremist and is currently under ban. Many of Jehovah's Witnesses are currently being detained in Russia for this reason.
    – user32540
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 3:18
  • "Christian children are not given a religious education" What is that supposed to mean?
    – kutschkem
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 6:44

This article lists six countries where owning a bible is 'dangerous' :

Six Countries . . .

The six countries listed are North Korea, Somalia, Maldives, Morocco, Libya and Uzbekistan.

Of the list - North Korea, Libya and Uzbekistan are the most intolerant.

China is, in fact, 'imprisoning' people for their religious, or cultural, beliefs as reported by recent documentaries regarding the Uighurs.

China's Cultural Persecution of Uighurs.

However the imprisonment is described by euphemisms such as 'training' and 'education'.

So also is the effort of China to stamp out Christianity.

Preserving the Integrity of the Bible in China.

Under the direction of the Chinese government . . . a five-year plan to reorient the Bible to promote socialism and create a new Christianity that favors the communist government’s agenda.

Coupled with the way the Uighurs are being treated, this re-writing of the bible and the fact that bibles can no longer be retailed in China is, in effect, a genuine situation of facing potential imprisonment for possessing a real bible (as opposed to a Communist version of the bible).

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    Note that this answer's prime reference is actually about persecution of muslims.
    – Nobody
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 14:38
  • @Nobody My primary reference is to six countries. My secondary reference is to the alteration of bibles. My tertiary reference refers to the deceitful way in which China imprisons people whilst claiming they are being 'educated' or 'trained'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 16:12
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    "Of the list, Libya and Uzbekistan are the most intolerant." More so than N. Korea? Are you absolutely sure about that?
    – Mast
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 6:29
  • @Mast Point taken. Edited. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 8:50

Russia (w.r.t. non-mainstream Christianity)

The particular incident that comes to mind is the recent (2019-Sep-2) conviction of Valeriy Moskalenko, who was detained for public reading of the Bible (limited resources in English - https://jw-russia.org/en/news/19090214-1115.html is very brief description, the rest is in Russian). However, it seems that it's less about the actual acts but more about his membership of Jehovah's Witnesses, as the charges are regarding 'organizing extremist behavior' - which seems a pattern in Russia, where the Jehovah's Witnesses (and some other non-mainstream religious organizations) are treated as extremist and their acts of proselytization are restricted and punished.

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