‘North’s freedom crackdown deplorable’

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‘North’s freedom crackdown deplorable’

WASHINGTON - The U.S. government said Monday that North Korea’s continued crackdown on religious freedom is “deplorable,” but it sidestepped a question on the possibility of change under Pyongyang’s new leadership.

“North Korea continues to be on our countries of particular concern list. The situation is really deplorable,” Suzan Johnson Cook, ambassador at large for religious freedom at the U.S. State Department, said at a press briefing on the update of its International Religious Freedom Report.

The report covers a range of nations notorious for oppressing religious freedom, including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea.

But it does not address whether there is any sign of change in North Korea’s stance on the issue since its power transition half a year ago, as it is based on an assessment last year.

Cook was responding to a question about whether there is a sign of change in the North’s religious freedom issue as it is ruled by a young new leader known to have been educated in the West.

Kim Jong-un, believed to be in his late 20s, took over power in December, when his father, Kim Jong-il, died.

Cook said the U.S. continues to “press and urge” Pyongyang to improve its record.

“They’re not really focused on religious freedom at all,” she said.

“So we’re asking them to really work on all of their universal human rights, including religious freedom.”

The department’s report, meanwhile, noted Pyongyang’s harsh punishment against people who are involved in religious activities.

“The government continued to repress unauthorized religious groups, and dealt harshly with those who engaged in religious activities it deemed unacceptable,” the report said, echoing earlier assessments.

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