North Korea: Faith and Famine

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 8, 2008 | Go to article overview

North Korea: Faith and Famine


Byline: Doug Bandow, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Every time it seems the so-called Democratic People's Republic of Korea is about to join the world community, the regime in Pyongyang reminds us of its criminal nature.

A North Korean soldier recently shot and killed a South Korean tourist. Pyongyang naturally stonewalled Seoul's call for an investigation.

But most grotesque is what North Korea does to its own people. North Koreans are starving again and Pyongyang is calling for food aid from abroad.

Aiding the regime in Pyongyang is more than a political problem. Defense Forum Foundation President Suzanne Scholte recently argued, North Koreans are by far the most persecuted people in the world.

North Korean repression of religious liberty is particularly harsh. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has published a new report, A Prison Without Bars, based on interviews with refugees and former security personnel. The details are horrendous.

There was a thriving Christian community in northern Korea before that territory was occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. However, explains the commission, Independent religious practice is considered a direct political threat.

The veritable collapse of North Korea's economy has only heightened the regime's fears. Explains the commission: Contact in China with South Koreans or Korean-Americans, many of whom are associated with faith-based humanitarian relief efforts, is still deemed a more severely punishable political offense.

Indeed, adds the commission: Religion is seen as the 'advance guard' of aggression by America. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that there is no religious freedom in North Korea.

The few churches and other worship centers in Pyongyang were not for the North Korean people but were showplaces for foreigners and not 'real churches like those in China and South Korea.'" Outside these venues, religious literature is banned.

Moreover, the threat of punishment is omnipresent, which means any religious believers must risk all. Notes the commission: It is widely known that there are severe penalties meted out against those discovered practicing banned religions. Many interviewees testified that they had heard about or witnessed severe persecution of persons caught engaging in religious activity.

Refugees cite one tragic case after another. Punishments include torture, mistreatment, and the disappearance of those suspected of religious activity.

Tying everything together is the fact that veneration of the Kim family, or KimIlSungism, was the official state ideology, and the only belief system allowed to exist in North Korea. …

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