The Kim regime is more than confrontational — it remains brutally repressive and cruel.
North Korea again has demonstrated its recklessness to the world. Pyongyang recently unveiled its uranium enrichment program and bombarded a South Korean island. For a time war clouds circled the Korean peninsula.
But the Kim dynasty in the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is more than confrontational. The regime is brutally repressive. The North’s prison camps are full of political dissidents, would-be refugees, and religious believers.
The DPRK routinely rates among the world’s worst religious persecutors. Formally atheistic, the regime has turned politics into a quasi-religion. The communist system is holy like a church, the ruling Kims, both father and son, are secular saints, the self-reliance philosophy of Juche amounts to theology, recorded in books of Kim sayings, and heretics are severely punished.
But North Korean repression is largely invisible to the world. We see through a glass darkly wrote the Apostle Paul, and no where was that more true than in the DPRK. The regime is uniquely opaque, with only a minimal foreign presence in Pyongyang.
In late 2009, 29-year-old Robert Park illegally crossed from China to the North in order to increase attention to persecution in North Korea. He was held for 43 days and tortured before being released. He recently has been speaking about his experience.
Unfortunately, conditions have not improved. The State Department designates the communist state as a Country of Particular Concern. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also recently cited the North as one of its 13 Countries of Particular Concern. The group Open Doors put the DPRK at the top of its latest World Watch List. International Christian Concern cites North Korea as one of the world’s 10 Worst Persecutors.
Yet foreign religious delegations sometimes are taken in by the North’s Potemkin Village of faith. Last October, Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote about such a trip organized by the World Council of Churches, which in years past had promoted violent Marxist “liberation” groups. Alas, clerics often are the most credulous of observers, seemingly determined to see the Kim regime as an international victim.
The reality is very different. In the DPRK, explains the State Department, “the government severely restricted religious activity, except that which was supervised tightly by officially recognized groups linked to the government. Genuine religious freedom does not exist.” Those who seek to gather and worship independently face severe repression.
The Commission’s judgment is similar: “Severe religious freedom abuses occur regularly, including: surveillance, discrimination, and harassment of both authorized and unauthorized religious activity; the arrest, torture, and possible execution of those conducting clandestine religious activity; and the mistreatment and imprisonment of asylum-seekers repatriated from China, particularly those suspected of engaging in religious activities or having religious affiliations.”
In fact, repression has been getting worse, since Pyongyang feels threatened by increased cross-border activity. Reports State: “Recent refugee, defector, missionary, and nongovernment organization (NGO) reports indicated religious persons engaging in proselytizing in the country, and those who have been in contact with foreigners or missionaries have been arrested and subjected to harsh penalties.”
International Christian Concern offers a similar judgment: “In 2009, the North Korean government took new steps to combat religious activity, and halted cross-border support from Chinese Christians. The government set up false prayer meetings and infiltrated underground churches as new tactics to entrap Christian converts.”
Yeo-sang Yoon and Sun-young Han of the North Korean Human Rights Archives and Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, respectively, interviewed North Korean defectors and refugees. They released their latest white paper on religious liberty in the North last year. The report still makes for depressing reading.
Yoon and Han estimate that roughly five percent of human rights violations involve religious persecution. Unfortunately, the authors conclude, “Religious oppression is ongoing with no signs of any improvement.” Nevertheless, there is a small but important bright spot: “The number of unofficial, behind-the-scenes and clandestine religious activities has increased little by little despite the North’s anti-religious policies.”
The Kim dynasty does not recognize individual liberty of any sort. People in the DPRK are expected to be dutiful automatons. They should share the official “religion” of deification of the Kim-led state. Everything people do is expected to glorify the “Great” and “Dear” Leaders. The regime considers real “religion as something to overcome,” write Yoon and Han.
Pyongyang obviously understands the threat posed by belief in God. As Adolf Hitler’s notorious “People’s Court” judge Roland Freisler declared, Nazism and Christianity had only one thing in common — they claimed the whole person. Similarly, Christianity (and other faiths) and Communism (especially in North Korea) have only one thing in common — they claim the whole person.
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