The U.S. Department of State re-designated North Korea as one of eight "Countries of Particular Concern" in its seventh annual International Religious Freedom Report, released Tuesday, citing no progress in the level of respect for religious freedom.
"Genuine religious freedom does not exist," stated a release by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. "The regime has continued to repress unauthorized religious groups."
Since 1998, the annual report has documented the actions of governments violating human rights and freedoms and exposed the millions of religious believers who continually suffer for their faith. In addition to listing countries of concern out of the 197 countries and territories examined, the report also notes those that have shown improved conditions in the promotion of international religious freedom
While Georgia, India, Turkmenistan and United Arab Emirates showed "significant improvement" in protecting and promoting religious freedom, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ¡V the official name for North Korea ¡V was kept on the list of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes that seek to control religious though and expression, with signs of no improvement.
"Despite this progress in these and other countries, the fact remains that this year's report continues to document tragic and widespread abuses of religious freedom by governments around the world," said John Hanford, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, in a statement released by the State Department.
Several unconfirmed reports and defector accounts exposed the arrest and execution of members involved with underground Christian churches and the abuse of Christians refusing to renounce their religion. The inaccessibility of North Korea, however, has barricaded free movement that would allow a full assessment of the human rights conditions in the country.
"It is on the basis of this report that we speak out on behalf of those suffering for their beliefs," said Hanford. "And it is in this report ¡V it is this report that helps us focus on countries where government repression is at its worst."
According to the report, estimates by the government broke down the number of religious believers to 10,000 Protestant, 10,000 Buddhists and 4,000 Catholics. South Korean church-related groups estimate considerably higher numbers.
Although the Constitution provides for "freedom of religious belief," the government, in practice, severely restricts religious freedom, including discouraging organized religious activities except those controlled by officially recognized groups, claimed the report.
Since 2001, the DPRK has remained on the list as a "Country of Particular Concern" and U.S. Government policy has increased efforts to monitor human rights conditions in the country.
"We hope for a North Korea in the not too distant future which honors all human rights," said Hanford. "This is a passion that you sense on Capitol Hill, of course, and it is the passion of this President and this Secretary."