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In North Korea, the Atheist State,the one and only God is the Supreme Leader (Part 1)

I. Prologue

The United Nations Commission of inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea concluded that throughout the history of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, among the most striking features of the State has been its claim to an absolute monopoly over information and total control of organized social life. The commission found that there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.

The State operates an all-encompassing indoctrination machine that takes root from childhood to propagate an official personality cult and to manufacture absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader (Suryong), effectively to the exclusion of any thought independent of official ideology and State propaganda. Propaganda is further used by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to incite nationalistic hatred towards official enemies of the State, including Japan, the United States of America and the Republic of Korea, and their nationals.

The State considers the spread of Christianity a particularly serious threat, since it challenges ideologically the official personality cult and provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the State. Apart from the few organized State-controlled churches, Christians are prohibited from practicing their religion and are persecuted. People caught practicing Christianity are subject to severe punishments in violation of the right to freedom of religion and the prohibition of religious discrimination.

Open Doors, the International Christian missionary foundation "has designated North Korea as the world's most oppressive state against Christianity for 16 consecutive years in '2017 World Watch List' released in January this year.

The North Korean ostensibly recognizes the freedom of religion in its Constitution. In fact, however, the government regards all religious beliefs as superstitions, coercing its people into worshipping the Leader as the only almighty God. North Koreans live in despair being stripped away of the right to choose religious beliefs by the Leader.

This report examines the reasons behind why North Korea is 'a grave for religious believers' based on a range of various reports and North Korean defectors' testimonies, and ponders upon the roles of international community to attain the freedom of religion in North Korea.

II. North Korea, an atheist state

1. The one and only God, the Supreme Leader

No religion is allowed to exist in North Korea. The Supreme Leader is the one and only God.

Prior to Korea's independence from Japan in 1945, the North outpaced the South in terms of the successful spread of Christianity. At the same time, other religions such as Buddhism and Chondogyo were exerting great influence on people's consciousness and everyday life as well. According to the 'Korean Central Almanac.n published in the North in 1950, more than 2.1 million people, or 24% of the general population (over 9 million) had religious beliefs in North Korea right after the country's independence in 1945.

Yet, in the course of founding the North Korean communist regime in 1948, Kim Il Sung defined religion as the 'opium to people' and started to vigorously suppress unauthorized religious practices. Many religious believers were tortured or executed. In particular, Christianity was denounced as a 'means of imperialistic invasion' and thus countless Christians were met with atrocious religious cleansing.

During the Korea War in 1950, the then North Korean army ruthlessly slaughtered Christians in several places including Pyongyang and Shincheon and abducted or murdered more than 370 South Korean religious people including the pastor Sohn Yang Won.

In 1958 after the ceasefire agreement was signed, North Korea initiated the 'Central Party Leadership Project' under the banner of tracking down and punishing impure elements. Religious men were classified as the 'hostile class' representing the impure elements and suffered horrendous human rights violations. Subsequently, almost all religious men disappeared in North Korea.

Kim Il Sung adopted 10 Principles for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System, which was intended to make people worship him as the one and only God and overrode the constitution or the labor Party's Rules. The Article 4 of the 10 Principles stipulates a mandatory provision that "People shall faithfully revere the Great Leader and comrade Kim Il Sung", which has laid the foundation for the education, surveillance and control system restraining North Koreans' freedom of thought, expression and action.

In its 2014 report, the UN COI (Commission of Inquiry) pointed out the 10 Principles explicitly deifying Kim Il Sung as the 'key principles violating and controlling North Koreans' freedom of thought, expression and religion' and stated those principles infringed the 'International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights' (Covenant B, Covenant on Right to Freedom) which North Korean authorities had already signed into.

Nevertheless, the current North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has renamed the 10 Principles to '10 Principles for the Establishment of Monolithic Leadership System' which underpins the human rights violations including the freedom of religion.

2. Religious facilities for propaganda

While implementing the policy to annihilate religion, North Korean authorities have ostensibly, but falsely, protected the freedom of religion since the 1970s by organizing spurious religious groups such as Korean Christian Federation and managing a few religious facilities for propaganda like churches and Buddhist temples. Yet, these bogus camouflage religious groups and facilities are nothing but political tools to maintain Kim Jong Un' s hereditary dictatorship regime and a means of earning foreign currencies.

North Korea claims there are 3 churches in Pyongyang and more than 500 house-churches.

Yet, no more than two churches (Bongsu Church and Chilgol Church) put up signboards. North Korea uses the 'First Church' built by the Presbyterian Church of Korea as the exhibition hall for Kim II Sung and KimJongilia flowers, putting up a humble sign ('Prayer Zone') in a marginal space.

There is a general consensus among North Korean defectors that 'religious facilities in North Korea are nothing but tourist destinations intended for international propaganda and foreigners not for locals.

In the Bongsu Church in Pyongyang built in September 1988, only the manager and his family usually stay, whereas hundreds of men and women in their 40s-50s including the Mangyeongdae District Office clerks carefully selected by the Labor Party attend a fake service when foreigners visit.

Many foreigners who have visited North Korean churches say the pastors and laymen attending the church services were seemingly acting. That is, North Korean authorities put on a show and pretend to provide for normal religious practices for fear of any criticism raised by the international community.


To Be Continued

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