N. Korea zero-tolerance for religious freedom results in 120,000 prisoners

October 14, 2015

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) — North Korea tolerates no religious freedom and continues to deal harshly with those involved in “almost any religious practices,” the U.S. State Department said in an annual religious freedom report Wednesday.

“The constitution guarantees freedom of religion for its citizens and the country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, religious freedom does not exist in practice,” the department said in the 2014 International Religious Freedom Report.

The report cited the U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s report on the North’s human rights situation as saying that there was an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of religion and the North’s leadership should be brought to the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses.

The latest religious freedom report said that the North’s policy towards religion has been to maintain “an appearance of tolerance for international audiences, while suppressing internally all non-state-sanctioned religious activities.”

“The government continued to deal harshly with those who engaged in almost any religious practices through executions, torture, beatings, and arrests,” it said. “An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners were believed to be held in the political prison camp system.”

The report also said that defector accounts indicated religious practitioners often concealed their activities from neighbors, coworkers, and other members of society for fear their activities would be reported to the authorities.

The State Department has designated North Korea as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) since 2001 under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom. The North was last redesignated as a CPC in July, the report said.

On South Korea, the report pointed out the issue of “conscientious objectors.”

“The government continued to imprison approximately 600 conscientious objectors for refusing to participate in mandatory military service,” the report said, adding that the Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision imprisoning a conscientious objector for 18 months.