Although it’s difficult to confirm all the information coming out of North Korea, credible reports indicate that religious believers, particularly Christians, often face terrible persecution, or even death, because of their faith. This statement, made by the head of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom, comes following the Department’s release of it’s annual report on religious liberty around the globe.
"We hear of horrible cases of Christians starved to death, basically, in prison camps," said John Hanford, head of the IRF office. "It is our belief that there probably are more political prisoners and more religious prisoners in North Korea than in any other nation."
This year’s annual report to Congress, released on Sept. 15 by the U.S. State Department, shows that North Korea is one of the worst offenders of religious liberty, with more political and religious prisoners than any other country in the world.
Hanford says that things are apparently so bad in North Korea that refugees are fleeing to nearby China and even Vietnam, two countries whose “respect for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience remained poor, especially for many unregistered religious groups” and which have “continued to restrict significantly those publicly organized activities of religious groups that were not recognized by the government.”
And despite the fact that the State Department recently added Vietnam to its list of severe violators, it would seem that its oppressive regime is still preferable to many North Korea refugees.
Overall, Hanford says this year’s report paints a bleak picture of conditions for North Korean religious followers. "We say in our annual report that religious freedom simply does not exist in North Korea," he says. "In fact the leadership there considers religious freedom to be subversive to the goal of the state and of the Communist Party."
Hanford adds that his office is continuing to receive reports of the killing of members of underground Christian churches in North Korea, and of the torture and imprisonment of believers. The regime has severely repressed unauthorized religious groups in recent years; and according to unconfirmed reports, has slaughtered the members of many underground Christian churches.
The State Department's 2004 Religious Freedom Report documents interviews in which defectors said some North Korean Christians were imprisoned and tortured for reading the Bible and talking about God, while others were subjected to biological warfare experiments. However, the report notes that the Communist government effectively prevents outside confirmation of these facts.
In addition to North Korea, the report also maintained Myanmar, China, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam as “totalitarian regimes” restricting religious freedom in their societies.
The department said that Cuba and the five Asian nations regarded some or all religious groups as enemies of the state and that the practice of religion was often seen by them as a threat to power.