N. Korea continues to strictly restrict religious freedom: U.S. State Dept.

May 12, 2021

 North Korea continues to strictly limit the basic rights of its people, including religious freedom, with up to 200,000 people believed to be held in prison camps because of their beliefs, the U.S. State Department said Wednesday.

In its annual report on religious freedom, the State Department also noted the North Korean government continues to actively take part in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom.

“Since 2001, the DPRK has been designated as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” the report said. DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

In December, the State Department redesignated North Korea as a state violator of religious freedom for a 19th consecutive year.

North Korea has traditionally reacted angrily to U.S. reports on human rights and religious freedom, often accusing them of being a pretext for what it claims to be U.S. efforts to topple the Pyongyang regime.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. will continue to promote religious freedom throughout the globe, noting the annual report covers nearly 200 countries and territories.

“Our country’s commitment to defending freedom of religion and belief goes back centuries. It continues today. Religious freedom, like every human right, is universal. All people everywhere are entitled to it, no matter where they live, what they believe or what they don’t believe,” he said in a press conference.

Dan Nadel, a senior official from the department’s office of international religious freedom, noted the U.S. too is not free from religious discrimination, but said it remains committed to tackling such problems.

“No society, including our own, is immune from the scourge of religious discrimination, whether manifesting as anti-semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, xenophobia or marginalization of Christians, atheists or any others,” he said. Xenophobia is fear of foreigners,

“We remain committed to working with government and civil society partners to tackle problems like hate crimes, discrimination, and religiously motivated violence in ways that do not interfere with freedom of religion and freedom of expression,” he added.

The department said its report partly relies on information provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that may not be independently verified due to extremely limited access to countries such as North Korea.

“Multiple sources indicated the situation had not changed since the 2014 Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the DPRK was published,” said the report. “In May, the NGO Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) estimated 200,000 individuals were being held in prison camps, many for being Christian.”

The State Department said the United States continues to engage with other countries to express their shared concerns about religious freedom in North Korea.

“The United States cosponsored the resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in December that condemned the country’s ‘long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights,’ and it expressed very serious concern about abuses, including imposition of the death penalty for religious reasons and restrictions on the freedoms of conscience, religion, or belief,” the report said.

“The U.S. government raised concerns about religious freedom in the country in other multilateral forums and in bilateral discussions with other governments, particularly those with diplomatic relations with the country,” it added.

The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea.