A new report on freedom of religion or belief in North Korea, released today by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), provides further evidence that freedom of religion or belief is a human right that is “largely non-existent” in the country.
Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea, details the persecution of Christians
and discrimination against other religions and beliefs including Buddhism and
The report also
explores the detention of North Korean refugees in China and the Chinese
government’s policy of repatriating them to North Korea. Today marks Save
North Koreans Day, a global day of action during which people around the
world will deliver a letter to Chinese embassies to urge China to change its
policy and allow North Koreans safe passage through China to sanctuary in South
Korea or beyond.
In 2014, the United Nations Commission
of Inquiry into human rights in North Korea found that “there
is almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought conscience and
religion as well as the right to freedom of opinion, expression, information
and association” in North Korea, as well as possible crimes against humanity
being perpetrated against the North Korean people. The Commission also noted that
the regime in North Korea “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly
severe threat” and as a result, “Christians are prohibited from practising
their religion and are persecuted”. Severe punishments are inflicted on “people
caught practising Christianity”.
CSW’s new report states:
“Christians usually practice their faith in secret. If discovered they are
subject to detention and then likely taken to prison camps (kwanliso); crimes against them in these
camps include extra-judicial killing, extermination, enslavement/forced labour,
forcible transfer of population, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, persecution,
enforced disappearance, rape and sexual violence, and other inhumane acts. Documented incidents
include Christians being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a
steamroller, herded off bridges and trampled under-foot.”
Practitioners of other religions, such
as Buddhism, Shamanism and the native Korean Cheondoism – which combines elements
of Confucianism, Buddhism, Taosim and Shamanism – also face restrictions and
discrimination, but are treated more leniently. Christianity is repressed most
harshly because it is viewed as a foreign religion, and Christians are
suspected of being spies.
In Pyongyang, there are four churches –
two Protestant, one Catholic and one Russian Orthodox – but these are widely
regarded as Potemkin-style show
churches for the benefit of foreign visitors.
Among its recommendations, the report
calls for the North Korean government to acknowledge and implement the
recommendations of the UN Commission of Inquiry and to allow the UN Independent
Experts unhindered access to visit the country. CSW continues to call for North
Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court on account of evidence
that crimes against humanity are being perpetrated in the country, or the
establishment of an ad-hoc tribunal to ensure accountability.
CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict
Rogers said, “North Korea is the world’s most closed, repressive State, where
the regime is committing crimes against humanity. There is almost total denial
of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion. To follow any belief other than
total loyalty to the ruling Kim dynasty is to risk very grave punishment, and
in some instances, death. Our report aims to shine a light on the darkest
corner of the globe and to call on the international community to act. We also
urge China to behave responsibly and to cease its policy of forcible
repatriation of North Korean refugees, which is tantamount to a death sentence.
The time for change is long overdue.”
Notes to Editors:
- CSW’s new report on Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea is available here.