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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for "freedom of religious belief"; however, in practice the Government discourages all organized religious activity except that which serves the interests of the State. Genuine religious freedom does not exist. The Constitution also stipulates that "no one can use religion as a means to drag in foreign powers" or to disrupt the social order.

In recent years, the regime has allowed the formation of several government-sponsored religious organizations. These serve as interlocutors with foreign church groups and international aid organizations. Some foreigners who have met with representatives of these organizations are convinced that they are sincere believers; others claim that they appeared to know little about religious dogma, liturgy, or teaching.

The Constitution provides for "the right to build buildings for religious use." There are a few Buddhist temples where religious activity is permitted. Three Christian churches--two Protestant and one Catholic--have been opened since 1988 in Pyongyang. Many visitors say that church activity appears staged. Foreign Christians who have attempted to attend services at these churches without making prior arrangements with the authorities report finding them locked and unattended, even on Easter Sunday. Some foreign visitors who have entered such church buildings noted obvious signs of disuse, such as heavy dust on the pews, Bibles, and hymnals. The authorities have told foreign visitors that one Protestant seminary exists, which accepts six to nine pupils every 3 years. The Government claims that there are 10,000 Christians who worship in 500 house


*The United States does not have diplomatic relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. North Korea does not allow representatives of foreign governments, journalists, or other invited visitors the freedom of movement that would enable them to fully assess human rights conditions there. This report is based on information obtained over more than a decade, updated where possible by information drawn from recent interviews, reports, and other documentation. While limited in detail, this information is nonetheless indicative of the religious freedom situation in North Korea today.

churches, and the Chondogyo Young Friends Party, a government-sponsored group based on a traditional Korean religious movement, is still in existence.

Persons engaging in religious proselytizing may be arrested and subject to harsh penalties, including imprisonment.

The Government deals harshly with all opponents, who may include, but would not be limited to, those engaging in religious practices deemed unacceptable to the regime. In April 1999, credible witnesses testified before the U.S. Congress on the treatment of persons held in prison camps through the early 1990's. Although the allegations could not be substantiated, the witnesses stated that prisoners held on the basis of their religious beliefs repeatedly were treated worse than other inmates. One witness, a former prison guard, testified that those believing in God were regarded as insane, as the authorities taught that "all religions are opium." He recounted an instance in which a woman was kicked hard and left lying for days because a guard overheard her praying for a child who was being beaten. Another witness claimed that one of the "target groups" that the Government identified for extermination for three successive generations was "the religious people."

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There is no reliable information on the number of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

There was no information available on societal attitudes towards religious freedom. The regime does not allow representatives of foreign governments, journalists, or other invited guests the freedom of movement that would enable them to assess fully religious freedom in the country.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and has no official presence there. The DPRK is a closed society extremely averse and resistant to outside influences. U.S. policy allows U.S. citizens to travel to North Korea and a number of churches and religious groups have organized efforts to alleviate suffering caused by shortages of food and medicine.

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Revised last: 10-09-1999