Those openly practicing religion in North Korea can expect to face harsh punishments, a study found
Free enterprise is on the increase, information from the outside world is more readily available and citizens, especially younger people, are more willing to push the boundaries on what they can say and do, the study found.
But the paper by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) also reveals the number of people being sent to prison camps has risen, respect for human rights is nearly nonexistent and those practicing any religion are subject to severe punishment.
One respondent to the CSW’s study said there was “no religion” in North Korea.
Another said: “When it comes to religion, North Korean people just shudder because the punishment is very severe.”
If someone was found to be a Christian, they would be immediately shot
A third respondent, from the hermit kingdom’s North Hamgyong Province, said: “I had never heard about God in North Korea.
“I saw a Buddha in a temple once, but I never met any Christians.
“If someone was found to be a Christian, they would be immediately shot.”
The research, complied from interviews with sources including North Korean defectors, UN officials and academics, concludes the rights of those living in the secretive state has not improved in the past decade.
North Koreans have not seen an improvement in the human rights, the study found
And it says much more needs to be done by the international community to improve the lives of ordinary North Koreans.
Among its key findings is a sharp drop in the number of successful escapes into neighbouring China.
This is likely down to an increase in border security, on both sides of the frontier, as well as China’s continued policy of returning captured North Korean defectors to their home country.
But the study also discovered the cost of fleeing to China has skyrocketed, from just 20,000 won (around £16) in 2000 to more than 500 times that figure today.
An increase the smuggled media from outside of the country is undermining the regime’s message
CSW found “punishments for attempted escapes from North Korea have become increasingly more serious since 2014”.
The charity also found the penalties for the possession of illegal videos have also increased, with police also cracking down on mobile phones – a key way of spreading information from the outside world within the North.
But despite the punishment for being caught with foreign materials, the CSW research concludes the “the appetite is increasing even as the penalties for distributing and viewing outside media are becoming more severe”.
The paper adds: “Interviewees believed that information from outside is undermining state propaganda about the rest of the world.”
The survey found more people were being sent to the regime’s brutal prison camps
While North Koreans are more determined than ever to seek information from outside the secretive state, a majority of respondents to the study said they had seen an increase in the number of people sent to political prison camps.
41 percent of those who answered said more people had been shipped off to the regime’s horrific gulags, while just 10 percent said the number had gone down.
One interviewee, aged 50 from North Hamgyong Province, reported there had been an increase in the number of both elite and ordinary people being sent to political prison camps, including border crossers.
Another said he had not seen any executions after 2007, while a third agreed that instead of being executed in public, people were being ‘taken away’.
The CSW concluded the international community should do more to help North Koreans
CSW’s East Asia team leader Benedict Rogers said the increasing availability of foreign movies and other media in North Korea was leading to “a growing sense of dissent among citizens”
He said: “Unless we understand what is happening inside the country, we cannot be equipped to meet its challenges.
“In a place of total darkness any flicker of hope is something we should build on.”