Freedom of religion in North Korea

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In North Korea, the Constitution provides for "freedom of religious belief". However, in reality there is no freedom of religion in the country. Christians in North Korea are the most persecuted in the world.[1] The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is a secular state. The US and South Korean governments are the main sources of information on religion in North Korea.

North Korea is officially a secular state,[2][3] and government policy continues to interfere with the individual's ability to choose and to manifest his or her 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. 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, the continuation of this activity remains difficult to verify.[4]

Religion in North Korea[edit]

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 Central Intelligence Agency, the government sponsors religious groups only to create an illusion of religious freedom.[5] North Korea sees organised religious activity as a potential challenge to the leadership.[6] Religion is practiced privately in secret.[7]

Status of religious freedom[edit]

The government deals harshly with all opponents,[4] and those engaged in religious activities often face the harshest of treatment. In particular, those of Christian faith are persecuted the most,[7] and North Korea is ranked as the worst country in the world in terms of Christian persecution by watchdog group Open Doors.[8][better source needed]

An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons were believed to be held in political prison camps (Kwalliso) in remote areas,[9] many for religious and political reasons.[10] The number of Christians in prison camps is estimated at tens of thousands.[7] Family members of believers are considered guilty by association and sent to labor camps or prisons.[7]

Punishable religious activities include propagating religion, possessing religious items, praying, singing hymns, and having contact with religious persons.[7]

In March 2006 the Government reportedly sentenced Son Jong-nam to death for espionage. However, 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.[4] A fellow inmate of the Pyongyang prison where Son was held states that he died there in December 2008.[11]

North Koreans found in possession of Bibles are arrested and imprisoned by North Korean government,[12] and in some cases are executed.[13] In 2013, for example, 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."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Christians Persecution in North Korea". Open Doors USA. 
  2. ^ World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia. Marshall Cavendish. Retrieved 2011-03-05. North Korea is officially an atheist state in which almost the entire population is nonreligious. 
  3. ^ The State of Religion Atlas. Simon & Schuster. Retrieved 2011-03-05. Atheism continues to be the official position of the governments of China, North Korea and Cuba. 
  4. ^ a b c 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.
  5. ^ "The World Factbook". Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  6. ^ "North Korea confirms US citizen is arrested". BBC. 14 April 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "ANNUAL REPORT OF THE U.S. COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM" (PDF). U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. April 2016. pp. 51–52. 
  8. ^ "North Korea Publicly Executes 80 Prisoners; Crimes Include Possessing Bibles". Christian Post. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  9. ^ "The Hidden Gulag – Exposing Crimes against Humanity in North Korea's Vast Prison System" (PDF). The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Retrieved September 21, 2012. 
  10. ^ "North Korea: Political Prison Camps" (PDF). Amnesty International. May 4, 2011. Retrieved July 25, 2012. 
  11. ^ Kim, Hyung-jin (2010-07-05), AP Exclusive: NKorean killed for spreading Gospel, Associated Press, retrieved 2010-07-08 
  12. ^ Stephen Evans, Remembering North Korea's Christian martyrs, BBC News (December 26, 2016).
  13. ^ George D. Chryssides & Margaret Z. Wilkins, Christians in the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, 2011), p. 367.
  14. ^ Public executions seen in 7 North Korea cities: Source tells JoongAng Ilbo 80 people killed for minor offenses, JoongAng Ilbo (November 11, 2013).

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