North Korea remains at the forefront of religious persecution.
12/09/2010 North Korea (The American Spectator) – again has demonstrated its recklessness to the world. Pyongyang recently unveiled its uranium enrichment program and bombarded a South Korean island. For a time war clouds circled the Korean peninsula.
But the Kim dynasty in the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is more than confrontational. The regime is brutally repressive. The North’s prison camps are full of political dissidents, would-be refugees, and religious believers.
The DPRK routinely rates among the world’s worst religious persecutors. Formally atheistic, the regime has turned politics into a quasi-religion. The communist system is holy like a church, the ruling Kims, both father and son, are secular saints, the self-reliance philosophy of Juche amounts to theology, recorded in books of Kim sayings, and heretics are severely punished.
But North Korean repression is largely invisible to the world. We see through a glass darkly wrote the Apostle Paul, and no where was that more true than in the DPRK. The regime is uniquely opaque, with only a minimal foreign presence in Pyongyang.
In late 2009, 29-year-old Robert Park illegally crossed from China to the North in order to increase attention to persecution in North Korea. He was held for 43 days and tortured before being released. He recently has been speaking about his experience.
Unfortunately, conditions have not improved. The State Department designates the communist state as a Country of Particular Concern. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also recently cited the North as one of its 13 Countries of Particular Concern. The group Open Doors put the DPRK at the top of its latest World Watch List. International Christian Concern cites North Korea as one of the world’s 10 Worst Persecutors.
Yet foreign religious delegations sometimes are taken in by the North’s Potemkin Village of faith. Last October, Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote about such a trip organized by the World Council of Churches, which in years past had promoted violent Marxist “liberation” groups. Alas, clerics often are the most credulous of observers, seemingly determined to see the Kim regime as an international victim.
The reality is very different. In the DPRK, explains the State Department, “the government severely restricted religious activity, except that which was supervised tightly by officially recognized groups linked to the government. Genuine religious freedom does not exist.” Those who seek to gather and worship independently face severe repression.
The Commission’s judgment is similar: “Severe religious freedom abuses occur regularly, including: surveillance, discrimination, and harassment of both authorized and unauthorized religious activity; the arrest, torture, and possible execution of those conducting clandestine religious activity; and the mistreatment and imprisonment of asylum-seekers repatriated from China, particularly those suspected of engaging in religious activities or having religious affiliations.”
In fact, repression has been getting worse, since Pyongyang feels threatened by increased cross-border activity. Reports State: “Recent refugee, defector, missionary, and nongovernment organization (NGO) reports indicated religious persons engaging in proselytizing in the country, and those who have been in contact with foreigners or missionaries have been arrested and subjected to harsh penalties.”
International Christian Concern offers a similar judgment: “In 2009, the North Korean government took new steps to combat religious activity, and halted cross-border support from Chinese Christians. The government set up false prayer meetings and infiltrated underground churches as new tactics to entrap Christian converts.”
Yeo-sang Yoon and Sun-young Han of the North Korean Human Rights Archives and Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, respectively, interviewed North Korean defectors and refugees. They released their latest white paper on religious liberty in the North last year. The report still makes for depressing reading.
Yoon and Han estimate that roughly five percent of human rights violations involve religious persecution. Unfortunately, the authors conclude, “Religious oppression is ongoing with no signs of any improvement.” Nevertheless, there is a small but important bright spot: “The number of unofficial, behind-the-scenes and clandestine religious activities has increased little by little despite the North’s anti-religious policies.”
The Kim dynasty does not recognize individual liberty of any sort. People in the DPRK are expected to be dutiful automatons. They should share the official “religion” of deification of the Kim-led state. Everything people do is expected to glorify the “Great” and “Dear” Leaders. The regime considers real “religion as something to overcome,” write Yoon and Han.
Pyongyang obviously understands the threat posed by belief in God. As Adolf Hitler’s notorious “People’s Court” judge Roland Freisler declared, Nazism and Christianity had only one thing in common — they claimed the whole person. Similarly, Christianity (and other faiths) and Communism (especially in North Korea) have only one thing in common — they claim the whole person.
Thus, the North Korean constitution notwithstanding, the Kim government does not recognize freedom of conscience, worship, or expression. Explain Yoon and Han: “even this restricted and nominal freedom cannot be enjoyed by all people, but only when the regime deems it necessary to use it as a policy tool for those among the supporters and participants of the socialist revolution.”
In response, Yoon and Han explain: “North Korea has adopted a so-called ‘parallel policy’ toward religion, whereby it takes advantage of religion politically, but in fact suppresses it. The ‘parallel policy’ is a dual policy through which the regime tries to appear in the international community as if it is tolerating religion and guaranteeing religious freedom, while implementing a policy of suppressing religion internally. It is evident that the regime is only taking advantage of religion politically to seek practical gains, whilst in reality it is destroying the very basis of religion in the North by getting rid of religious people and banning activities by religious organizations.”
The authors’ conclusion reflects the result of interviews with nearly 2000 defectors and refugees. The most important question: Can North Koreans freely conduct religious activities? No, said 99.7 percent of those who responded.
Unfortunately, 99.1 percent of respondents — and 100 percent of those who defected in 2008 — said that participants in the underground church risk punishment. Report Yoon and Han: “According to the outcome of an intensive survey on the level of punishment against those involved in religious activities, only 2.9 percent of those arrested are sent to labor training camps. By contrast, 14.9 percent are sent to prisons and an astonishing 81.4 percent to political prisons camps, the harshest level of punishment in North Korean society. This testifies how severely the regime punishes those involved in religious activities.”
Claims of executions are harder to confirm. The State Department reported: “Refugees and defectors continued to say they witnessed the arrest and possible execution of underground Christian church members by the government in prior years. Due to the country’s inaccessibility and the inability to gain timely information, the continuation of this activity during the reporting period remained difficult to verify.”
However, many believers have died while imprisoned. In fact, it is nearly impossible to overestimate the harshness of punishments inflicted on North Koreans who believe in any deity other than the Kims.