Suppression of religion in North draws U.S. fire
The U.S. State Department has condemned North Korea for its continuing suppression of religious freedom and said some Christians have been used as subjects of biological weapons tests.
The report was released Wednesday in Washington.
Releasing the International Religious Freedom Report for 2004, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Burma, China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan have been singled out as countries that continue to violate their citizens’ religious liberty. The North has been designated as a country of particular concern since 2001.
“The U.S. government raised its concerns about the deplorable state of human rights in the country at the six-party talks and other meetings with DPRK officials,” the report said. DPRK stands for the North’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Although the North’s constitution provides for “freedom of religious belief,” Pyeongyang severely restricts the religious freedom of its citizens, the State Department report said.
“The regime has severely repressed unauthorized religious groups in recent years; there are unconfirmed reports of the killing of members of underground Christian churches. In addition, religious persons who proselytize or who have ties to overseas evangelical groups operating in the People’s Republic of China appear subject to arrest and harsh penalties, according to several unconfirmed reports,” it said.
Because Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyeongyang, the report was drawn up based on information obtained over more than a decade from interviews, reports and defector accounts.
Pyeongyang punishes those engaging in religious practices, the report said, adding, “Defectors interviewed by a former humanitarian aid worker claimed that Christians were imprisoned and tortured for reading the Bible and talking about God, and that some Christians were subjected to biological warfare experiments.”
According to the report, North Korea has said 10,000 Protestants, 10,000 Buddhists and 4,000 Catholics are among its 22.4 million population. South Korean groups, however, said the actual number of believers would be considerably higher.
There is no reliable number of religious prisoners, but “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,” John Handford, U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, said yesterday.
Washington has been trying to pass a resolution on North Korea during the latest UN Commission on Human Rights session, the report said.
It also added that the United States has provided $250,000 in 2002 and 2003 to two South Korean activist groups to monitor and report on human rights in the North.
by Ser Myo-ja