The Kim regime is more than confrontational — it remains brutally repressive and cruel.
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Thus, the North Korean constitution notwithstanding, the Kim government does not recognize freedom of conscience, worship, or expression. Explain Yoon and Han: “even this restricted and nominal freedom cannot be enjoyed by all people, but only when the regime deems it necessary to use it as a policy tool for those among the supporters and participants of the socialist revolution.”
Although Pyongyang’s treatment of religion has been unremittingly hostile, North Korean policy has evolved over time. Restrictions first appeared on religious freedom in 1945 after the Soviet Union occupied the northern half of the peninsula, until then a Japanese colony.
Once the DPRK was established in 1948, “the regime suppressed religious freedom by arousing the sense of struggle against anti-revolutionary elements and spreading anti-religious sentiments far and wide to strengthen the socialist revolutionary force,” write Yoon and Han. After the Korean War, the North attempted to eradicate religion: “religious organizations were completely dismantled in the wake of relentless religious suppression, leaving no room for self-regulating religious activities or collective resistance.”
Pyongyang shifted policy again in the 1970s, attempting to improve its international image by publicly guaranteeing religious freedom. Explain Yoon and Han: “The policy reached its climax in 1988, bringing perfunctory and even qualitative changes to various religions.” Since then increased cross-border traffic has expanded opportunities for evangelism, leading the Kim government to target returned refugees who converted or had contact with foreign missionaries.
While hostile to religion, the DPRK does understand the value of using and manipulating foreign believers. For instance, note Yoon and Han, “the regime has realized that a claim about the nonexistence of religion in the North could never be a matter of pride, but would only make it a laughingstock or a target of criticism in the international community.” Moreover, religious groups have been in the forefront of providing humanitarian aid.
In response, Yoon and Han explain: “North Korea has adopted a so-called ‘parallel policy’ toward religion, whereby it takes advantage of religion politically, but in fact suppresses it. The ‘parallel policy’ is a dual policy through which the regime tries to appear in the international community as if it is tolerating religion and guaranteeing religious freedom, while implementing a policy of suppressing religion internally. It is evident that the regime is only taking advantage of religion politically to seek practical gains, whilst in reality it is destroying the very basis of religion in the North by getting rid of religious people and banning activities by religious organizations.”
The authors’ conclusion reflects the result of interviews with nearly 2000 defectors and refugees. The most important question: Can North Koreans freely conduct religious activities? No, said 99.7 percent of those who responded.
Add Yoon and Han: “This shows that it is nearly impossible to carry out ordinary religious activities there, although very limited clandestine religious activities are done and perfunctory religious activities are performed at North Korean religious facilities for special purposes. It is worthwhile to note that defectors, who fled the North before 1997, and those, who had escaped from 1997 until 2008, gave nearly identical answers. This also proves that the North has never tolerated religious activities.”
Only .6 percent of respondents actually had visited a legal worship facility. Three churches operate under government control in Pyongyang — I attended one when I visited the DPRK in 1992. The regime also claims that legal house churches exist in the provinces.
However, 98.6 percent of those polled said they knew of no legal facilities and none of the 1.4 percent who said yes “had either seen such home churches with their own eyes or participated in religious activities at such places,” say Yoon and Han. Still, since everyone who believed such churches to exist had fled the North after 1997, the authors believe further research is necessary to determine if some legal house churches are open.
Only 1.1 percent of respondents had participated in illegal activities. The percentages of those who had witnessed clandestine meetings and seen a Bible were 4.5 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively. All of these numbers are generally, but irregularly, up over the last decade.
Unfortunately, 99.1 percent of respondents — and 100 percent of those who defected in 2008 — said that participants in the underground church risk punishment. Report Yoon and Han: “According to the outcome of an intensive survey on the level of punishment against those involved in religious activities, only 2.9 percent of those arrested are sent to labor training camps. By contrast, 14.9 percent are sent to prisons and an astonishing 81.4 percent to political prisons camps, the harshest level of punishment in North Korean society. This testifies how severely the regime punishes those involved in religious activities.”
Claims of executions are harder to confirm. The State Department reported: “Refugees and defectors continued to say they witnessed the arrest and possible execution of underground Christian church members by the government in prior years. Due to the country’s inaccessibility and the inability to gain timely information, the continuation of this activity during the reporting period remained difficult to verify.”
However, many believers have died while imprisoned. In fact, it is nearly impossible to overestimate the harshness of punishments inflicted on North Koreans who believe in any deity other than the Kims.
Explain Yoon and Han: “Those arrested for their involvement in religious activities faced a very harsh punishment or serious consequences, including detention, death, disappearance, restriction on movement, or deportation. Nonetheless, such punishment or consequences only reflect the situation which witnesses or testifiers saw with their own eyes. So the actual punishment or consequences could have been much harsher.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online