The United States has released its annual Report on International Religious Freedom. Once again, the U.S. has designated North Korea a "Country of Particular Concern" -- a designation reserved for the worst violators of religious freedom. "North Korea," said U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford, "remains among the world's most egregious violators of religious freedom."
According to this year's report, the Communist government of North Korea deals harshly with all opponents, including those who engage in religious practices considered unacceptable by the regime. Religious and human rights groups outside the country report that members of underground churches are beaten, arrested and tortured, or killed because of their religious beliefs.
Religious and human rights groups estimate that 150,000 to 200,000 people are believed to be held in political prison camps in remote areas of North Korea, some for religious reasons. Prison conditions are harsh, and refugees and defectors who have been in prison said that prisoners held on the basis of their religious beliefs generally are treated worse than other inmates.
Rather than allowing for religious freedom, the North Korean regime continues to promote a cult of personality surrounding leader Kim Jong-il and his father. The practice remains an important ideological underpinning of the regime, at times resembling tenets of a state religion.
Some foreigners who have visited North Korea observed that services at state-authorized churches appeared staged with sermons supportive of the regime and congregants arriving and leaving together on tour buses.
The United States will continue to pursue the protection and promotion of religious rights for all people everywhere, including North Korea. "As we do so," said Ambassador Hanford, "we will draw strength from knowing that we are joined in this cause by many other nations and by countless men and women across the globe who refuse to be silenced by the intimidation and violence of persecutors."