Freedom of religion in North Korea
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In North Korea, the Constitution guarantees "freedom of religious beliefs". However, in reality there is no freedom of religion in the country. According to one report at least 200,000 Christians have gone missing since 1953. Christians in North Korea are said to be the most persecuted in the world.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is officially an atheist state, but government policy continues to interfere with the individual's ability to choose and to manifest a religious belief. The regime continues to repress the religious activities of unauthorized religious groups. Recent refugee, defector, missionary, and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) reports indicate that religious persons engaging in proselytizing in the country, those who have ties to overseas evangelical groups operating across the border in the People's Republic of China, and specifically, those repatriated from China and found to have been in contact with foreigners or missionaries, have been arrested and subjected to harsh penalties. People found with Christian Bibles, which are considered to be a symbol of the west can be executed or tortured. Refugees and defectors continued to allege that they witnessed the arrests and execution of members of underground Christian churches by the regime in prior years. Due to the country's inaccessibility and the inability to gain timely information, this activity remains difficult to verify.
Religion in North Korea
Traditionally, religion in North Korea primarily consists of Buddhism and Confucianism and to a lesser extent Korean shamanism and syncretic Chondogyo. Since the arrival of Europeans in the 18th century, there is also a Christian minority. According to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, the government sponsors religious groups only to create an illusion of religious freedom.
Status of religious freedom
North Korea sees organised religious activity, except that which is supervised by officially recognized groups linked to the Government, as a potential pretext to challenging the leadership and social order. Religion many times is practiced in secret. Genuine religious freedom does not exist.
The government deals harshly with all opponents, and those engaged in unsanctioned religious activities often face the harshest of treatment. In particular, those of Christian faith are persecuted the most, and North Korea is ranked as the worst country in the world in terms of Christian persecution by international Catholic aid organization Aid to the Church in Need.
As of 2012[update], an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons are believed to be held in political prison camps (Kwalliso) in remote areas, many for religious and political reasons. The number of Christians in prison camps is estimated at tens of thousands. Family members of believers are considered guilty by association and sent to labor camps or prisons.
In March 2006 the Government reportedly sentenced Son Jong-nam to death for espionage. However, some NGOs claimed that the sentence against Son was based on his contacts with Christian groups in China, his proselytizing activities, and alleged sharing of information with his brother in South Korea. Son's brother reported that information indicated that Son was alive as of spring 2007. Because the country effectively bars outside observers from investigating such reports, it was not possible to verify the Government's claims about Son Jong-nam's activities or determine whether he had been executed. A fellow inmate of the Pyongyang prison where Son was held states that he died there in December 2008. In 2013, the South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo reported that North Koreans in Wonsan discovered in possession of a Bible were among a group of 80 North Koreans killed in a wave of mass executions in the country. Others in the group were executed for other "relatively light transgressions such as watching South Korean movies or distributing pornography." However, others have testified in interviews that North Korean citizens have full rights to own and use religious texts and worship at church, although there may not be many young believers.
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Atheism continues to be the official position of the governments of China, North Korea and Cuba.
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a work in the public domain: United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. North Korea: International Religious Freedom Report 2007.
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note: autonomous religious activities now almost nonexistent; government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide illusion of religious freedom
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