|▲ Underground North Korean Christians praying at a service (photo=Cornerstone Ministries)|
On the 15th the U.S. Department of State announced the ‘International Religious Freedom Report 2006’ and categorized North Korea as a country with severe restrictions to religious freedom.
U.S. Department of State John Hanford, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom revealed “Over the last 30 years or so, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of countries considered free from 44 countries to 89. These include communist countries such as Vietnam. However, religious freedom in North Korea has blatantly made no improvements, and continues its horrible restrictions and oppression.”
Ambassador Hanford added that the index of countries would be made accordingly as the report announced on the day did not specify any ‘Countries of Particular Concern.’
Last year the Department of State declared North Korea, Myanmar, China, Vietnam and 8 other countries as ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ with the most severe oppression to religious freedom.
Countries on the list of countries of particular concern face economic sanctions from the U.S. Administration under the International Religious Freedom Act. Since 2001, every year North Korea has fallen under this category.
The report explained that even after North Korea was classified as a country of particular concern, there had been little developments made to religious freedom in North Korea. Recently North Koreans who make contact with foreign religious NGO’s near the China boarder are still arrested and sentenced to severe punishment.
In regards to the nature of religious freedom in North Korea, the report denoted that though North Korean constitution guarantees religious freedom, in truth authorities still strictly regulate all religious activities.
Although the number of religious North Korean believers cannot be exactly confirmed, according to governmental estimates, there are 10,000 believers of Christianity, 10,000 Buddhist believers and 4000 Catholic believers.
In particular the report declared “Some foreigners who had visited the country stated that church services appeared staged and contained political content supportive of the regime, in addition to religious themes.”
After the U.S passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, specific ambassadors affiliated with the Department of State were employed to begin investigations on the issue of religious freedom.
Also, an international Christian missionary organizations ‘Open Door’ classified North Korea as the leading country for oppressing Christianity for the 4th time consecutively since 2003.
※ View the U.S. Department of State International Religious Freedom Report 2006