North Korea has asserted
what it calls its commitment to upholding freedom of religion and allowing
Christians to freely practice in a new video from the television arm of Uriminzokkiri,
a state-run website that disseminates propaganda materials designed to foster
conflicts in South Korean society.
The video, “The
newly renovated Chilgol Church,” which was uploaded yesterday, shows
minister Baek Bong Il declaring, “The church provides basic resources for and
guarantees that Christians can freely lead their religious lives.”
The claims in the
video appear to represent North Korea’s response to the July 28th release of
the U.S. State Department’s annual report into religious freedom
worldwide, in which North Korea is listed as among the world’s worst abusers of
the right to practice religion.
Minster Baek continues,
“The churches in North Korea were re-established after the end of the Japanese
occupation in 1945,” adding, “Our esteemed Premier [Kim Il Sung] taught us
what Christians should believe, thus setting new ground for our religious
lives.” The video alleges that the U.S. demolished North Korean churches during
the Korean War, resulting in the loss of many believers.
The minister later
cited June 15th, 2000, when South Korean President Kim Dae Jung met Kim Jong Il
in Pyongyang, as another turning point in the nation’s religious history. The
event spurred “many Christians from South Korea and overseas to come to Chilgol
Church. We have become a church that does good deeds for the reconciliation and
unification between both Koreas,” he concluded.
In 2011, the South’s
Ministry of Unification described the underlying motivation behind similar
videos as follows: “[The North] is trying to expand the scale of international
humanitarian aid by interacting with religious groups overseas”. Starved for
foreign currency, this is seen as one of a number of means employed by the
North to procure it.
In addition, however, deliberately
drawing attention to the 2000 summit between leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae
Jung is a tried and tested method of generating sympathy from the left wing of
South Korean society, which supports greater engagement with North Korea and
the provision of aid and assistance across a number of sectors.
In accordance with the
International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the U.S. Department of State
annually releases an annual report assessing the state of religious
freedoms in all nations. North Korea invariably appears near the bottom,
among those nations that lack “genuine religious freedom,” and since 2001
has been designated a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC).