By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
SEOUL, South Korea– North Korea publicly executed a woman for distributing Bibles in a northern town close to the Chinese-North Korean border. In addition to distributing Bibles, Ri Hyon Ok, a 33-year old mother of three, was accused of spying for South Korea and the United States and for organizing dissents. South Korea and human rights groups were unable to verify the allegations against Ri, but her parents, husband and children have been sent to a prison camp.
Although an estimated 30,000 North Koreans are believed to secretly practice Christianity in their homes, the country views religion as a major threat. The government has authorized four state churches (one Catholic, one Russian Orthodox and two Protestant), but North Koreans cannot not attend services or publicly display their religious fervor. Only the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and his son, Kim Jong-il, may be worshiped in public.
Ironically, North Korean constitution guarantees religious freedom, and Pyongyang, the country’s capital, was once known as the “Jerusalem of the East” for its predominance of Christianity. However, in reality, religious observances are extremely restricted, and violators are usually accused of spying or anti-government activities. The Bible is also among the books banned in North Korea. A U.S. government report found that an estimated 6,000 North Koreans Christians are jailed in “Prison No. 15” in northern North Korea, and religious prisoners face harsher treatment.
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its report, “What religious practice…exist[s]…(are) tightly controlled and used to advance the government’s political or diplomatic agenda…[A]nyone engaged in clandestine religious practice faces official discrimination, arrest, imprisonment, and possibly execution.”
According to reports by South Korean human rights groups, execution of Christians in North Korean appears to have increased. In the past year, North Korea has tightened its control over human rights policies, and some believe this may be the result of the government’s means of securing transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son.
For more information, please see:
BBC – North Korea ‘executes Christians’ – 24 July 2009
The Huffington Post – North Korea Executes Christian For Distributing Bible: Rights Group – 24 July 2009
The Philadelphia Inquirer – N. Korea is said to kill Christian – 25 July 2009