North Korea has not made any progress in allowing genuine religious freedom, according to the 2009 Report on International Religious Freedom released by the U.S. State Department yesterday, the 26th.
The report notes that the North Korean government allows little or no religious choice, little or no opportunity for the majority of people to manifest what belief they have, and that those caught proselytizing or worshipping in “underground” churches remain subject to harsh penalties.
On the one hand, the report notes that a number of organizations from South Korea and the U.S. have been assisting with the rebuilding of Bongsu church in Pyongyang, probably the most famous church in the country. Additionally, it points out that there is both a Catholic church and a Russian Orthodox Church in Pyongyang, though the degree to which the common citizens are permitted to worship in them is questionable. Finally, a South Korean Buddhist monk lives and works at Singyesa Temple, it says, though he mostly acts as a tour guide.
However, the report notes that some of the foreigners permitted to worship at Bongsu church have said that the congregation seems unnatural; the North Korean worshippers are bussed in, and there are no children among them, for example, while the sermon has a pro-government element to it.
More seriously, the report also describes a number of cases of the arrest and possible execution of people found guilty of religious activities in the country, including Ri Hyon Ok, a woman supposedly executed for distributing bibles in Ryongchon, a man, Son Jong Nam, nominally sentenced to death for espionage in 2006 but whose family claims was arrested for his religious activities, and nine North Korean members of a foreign Christian NGO who apparently disappeared in 2008.
Defectors also report increased activity aimed at stopping religious activities in the border regions, and an increased reward for those who provide information on illegal missionary activities, according to the report.