The Six Periods of Religious Persecution in North Korea
Since its liberation in 1945, North Korean authorities have considered religion to be a weak legacy of the past. Kim Il Sung said, “Religion is a reactionary and unscientific notion to the world. Once people have religion, the awareness of the proletariat class will be paralyzed and the desire for revolution will vanish. In conclusion, I can say religion is just like opium.” He clarified that religion can not live in harmony with the socialist revolution.
However, Do Hee Yun, President of “Happy Unification,” has explained that the North Korean policy has been changing through a six step process.
The first period was between 1945 and 1948. During this period-in which the North Korean regime was established-the new regime confiscated the land and property from religious organizations rather than persecuting individual followers of religion. The North Korean regime was not yet fully formed into a strong communist structure and was not yet ready to stand directly against North Korea’s 200,000 believers.
The second period was a period of real persecution against religion between 1949 and 1953. While fighting the Korean War, the North Korean regime began persecuting religious individuals in order to eliminate any anti-revolutionary elements while at the same time strengthening their own revolutionary power. During this period countless temples and churches were destroyed, and many religious people were killed or forced to escape from North Korea into the South.
The third period began in 1954 and lasted until 1972. This is a period of annihilation of religious freedom. In 1958, North Korean authorities established a mutual monitoring program, forcing citizens to spy on, and then report, on one another for any anti-regime activities. Religious activities were one of the most important targets for monitoring. In 1967, there was a resident re-registration program, through which all citizens were classified into three class and 51 divisions. According to this class and division structure, religious people were considered a hostile class-the lowest of classes. Since then, the monitoring and persecution of religious citizens has continually been strengthened and punishment has been strict. At this point, religion disappeared in North Korea.
The fourth period was between 1972 and 1986. In this period, the North Korean regime utilized religious organization for their benefit.
In order to facilitate inter-Korean dialogues, homecoming projects for Korean Japanese citizens, for economic exchanges, and many other reasons, the Korean regime started using what was left of the countries religious organizations. The authorities established fake religious organizations, such as the Chosun Christians Federation, the Chosun Buddihsts Federation, and the Chosun Catholic Association as well as having associations with South Korean religious people and organizations.
In the fifth period, between 1988 and 1997, the North Korean regime began to actively manage it’s religious organizations. During that time, Bongsu Church and Chilgol Church were founded in order to show the existence of churches in North Korea for the appeasement of Western society.
The sixth and final period in the timeline of North Korean religious organizations has been a revival of underground religious activities since 1998. Citizens who escaped to China to seek food have received help from religious organizations working within China and have found religion there.
The North Korean regime pretends to allow it’s people freedom of religion, but in reality it keeps a strict policy of annihilation of all religious activity. However, despite the authorities’ monitoring, those who have found religion in China have re-entered North Korea and established underground churches. Since then, underground religious activity has consistantly been on the rise.