n International Journal for Religious Freedom - Religious persecution in North Korea : process and phases of oppression 1945-2011




Once called the Jerusalem of Asia, North Korea is one of the most oppressive states suppressing religious freedom. While there is an appearance of religious activity in a few of the government sponsored places of worship, extensive testimonies have shown that the regime treats religious people as national security criminals and prosecutes them accordingly. Many religious leaders and their family members, including children, have been punished without due process, tortured, executed, or sent to political prison camps. Additionally, religious believers have faced systematic socio-political discrimination. This paper will describe the process and phases of religious oppression by the North Korean regime from the independence movement to the Korean War and to the present. To show the overall pattern of religious oppression, the paper is divided into four phases: First Phase - Pre-Korean War (1946 to 1950), Second Phase - Korean War (1950 to 1953), Third Phase - Before the Kimilsungism Movement (1953 to 1971), and Fourth Phase - Era of Juche (1972 to present). The analysis will illustrate the big picture of religious persecution, but the focus will be on Protestant Christianity, which became the main target of oppression. Comparisons between the persecution of Christianity and Buddhism will also be drawn. This paper relies on findings from testimonies of North Korean refugees in addition to traditional research sources.


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