David Hawk’s Report on Freedom of Religion in DPRK

[imText1]Many people are curious about freedom of religion in North Korea. Can North Korean people go to church? Can they do worship services of certain religion? David Hawk says the anwer is “No.”

“The North Korean people I interviewed did not know that there were churches in Pyongyang. They thought religious activities were prohibited,” said Mr. Hawk, a prominent human rights investigator during his visit to South Korea.

David Hawk is the author of “Hidden Gulag,” a human rights report on the North Korean political detention camps and political prisons published by the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea last year. Now he is visiting South Korea to investigate freedom of thought, conscience, and belief in the DPRK for the International Religious Freedom.

In the interview with The DailyNK, Mr. Hawk excitedly shared his current activities and reasons to visit South Korea. During his recent visit, he interviewed forty North Korean defectors in South Korea.

“Among the newly arrived forty defectors who I interviewed, only three of them were high enough class to go to Pyongyang. I asked them if they ever participated in the religious activities, or if they had learned about religions in the school.”

Just as expected, the defectors’ answers were negative. “There are three churches in Pyongyang, two of them Christian churches, and they are building another one. We know that there are. However, the North Korean people didn’t know this, they thought it was prohibited,” said Mr. Hawk.

He then told the reporter that he had to interview South Korean religious people to find out about religious activities in North Korea, which he could not do with the North Korean defectors. “The only way to find out about the religious activities is basically talking to South Korean religionists who have visited Pyongyang and communicate with their counterparts.”

How much would the South Koreans knwo about the reality of North Korea? Would they know if the North Korean people are able to go to church or temples on the days they do not visit Pyongyang? Do they know anyone involved in religious activities outside of Pyongyang? There were many questions remainig unanswered, Mr. Hawk was rather hesistant to tell us what the South Korean interviewees told him.

David Hawk is a prominent human rights expert who spent much time focusing on human rights in Southeast Asia and Africa, particular Rwanda, Mr. Hawk says he was not always a human rights expert on North Korea. He believes the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea hired him because the committee wanted a non-Korean and non-Korean speaking human rights expert to research and produce the report with fresh eyes. This is how Mr. Hawk became a North Korean human rights expert.

“I was very much interested in North Korean human rights because in 1970s and 1980s when I was director and board directors of Amnesty International in United States I found out that there was very little known about North Korean because they didn’t let anyone go there.”

He says up until 2000 it was impossible to get information about North Korea. After the severe famine and thousands of people fleeing to China from the mid 1990s mostly in search of food, the research on North Korean human rights started. Starting 2000, however, it is now much easier to get the first hand sources such as interviews with the six thousand North Korean defectors who have defected to South Korea in the last five years.

Although it is a sad thing that so many of them had to leave their homes and start their lives anew in unfamiliar places, thanks to them we are stepping one step closer to improve human rights situations in North Korea.

When the reporter asked what the interviewees said, Mr. Hawk answered that he has everything written down in his notebook, holding up notebook full of his handwritings. “I have to go back home and put them in order. I am going to write the report this summer.”

The report on the freedom of thought, conscience, and belief in North Korea authored by David Hawk will be published by this fall and the Korean edition is likely to be published by the end of the year.