A new report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) offers a detailed look at religious persecution in North Korea. Entitled “Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea,” the study paints a tragic picture. Persecution has been official state policy since the DPRK’s creation and believers “suffer significantly because of the anti-revolutionary and imperialist labels attached to them by the country’s leadership.”
All people of faith are categorized as “hostile” (the other two broad classes or songbun groups are “core” and “wavering”). It is notably better to be Shaman than Christian, and slightly worse to be Catholic than Protestant.
Both Shamanism and Buddhism are seen as part of Korean culture and believed to pose less of a challenge to the communist system. However, those who practice Buddhism, noted CSW, still risk “imprisonment, forced labor, poor living and sanitary conditions, abuse, violence and torture.”
Christianity suffers most grievously. Since 1997, there has been “intense persecution of increasing unofficial religious activities.” A former North Korean security agent told CSW that Christianity “is so persecuted because basically, it is related to the United States” and is believed to provide an opportunity for espionage.
Most Christians worship secretly. If discovered, they are “taken to political camps (kwanliso); crimes against them in these camps include extra-judicial killing, extermination, enslavement/forced labor, forcible transfer of population, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance, rape and sexual violence and other inhuman acts.” CSW reports documented cases of believers being “hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot.”
Still, according to CSW, there is good news: “Since the 2000s unofficial Christian religious activities have been increasing, partly because of the influence of defectors who entered China and were then returned to North Korea, bringing the Christian faith they had been exposed to in China.” It is ironic that communist China, which continues to persecute religious believers, but not nearly to the degree of the DPRK, has become a source of evangelism for the North.
The South Korean Christian Federation claims the existence of 500 house churches, though by their nature they are extremely difficult to count.
Over the long-term, the growth of Christianity itself may prove to be the ultimate remedy, just as the People’s Republic of China abandoned Maoist madness and now is struggling to accommodate the presence of more Christians than Communist Party members.
[The World Post]