The U.S. State Department has released its latest International Religious Freedom Report. Secretary of State Colin Powell says the report makes it clear that “too many people in our world are still being denied their basic human right of religious liberty”:
“Some suffer under totalitarian regimes, others under governments that deliberately target or fail to protect religious minorities from discrimination and violence. By shining a light on this issue, this report signifies America’s support for all who yearn to follow their conscience without persecution."
The report lists eight countries of particular concern for their denial of religious liberty. They are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Vietnam. John Hanford is U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. In North Korea, he says, “religious freedom simply does not exist”:
“North Korea is a country where you may have the largest religious prisoner population in the world, where people are tortured, imprisoned, starved to death.”
North Korea’s Communist leadership deals harshly with all opposition, and the State Department report says this includes “those engaged in religious practices deemed unacceptable to the regime.” Because the North Korean regime has largely closed itself off from the rest of the world, it is hard to document what is going on in the country. But outside religious and human rights groups have provided numerous reports that members of underground Christian churches have been beaten, arrested, tortured, or killed.
According to the U.S. State Department report, the North Korean regime “has increased repression of unauthorized religious groups in recent years, especially persons who proselytize or who have ties to overseas evangelical groups.” And for those who are imprisoned for their beliefs, conditions in North Korean forced labor camps are harsh, sanitation is poor, and death from disease or starvation is common.
In North Korea, as elsewhere in the world, the U.S. is committed to speaking out against religious persecution. As Secretary of State Powell said, “Defending the sacred ground of human conscience is a natural commandment to all mankind, and America will always heed this call.”