The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) demanded on Monday that the State Department keep North Korea on its list of countries that suppress freedom of religion.
In its annual report published on Monday, the independent commission, established in 1988 to monitor religious conditions worldwide and make recommendations to the government, said that North Korea remained a “country of particular concern” for their brutal suppression of religious minorities.
“In 2018, religious freedom conditions in North Korea trended the same as in 2017. North Korea is one of the most isolated and repressed societies in the world,” the report said. “Throughout 2018 the North Korean government continued to carry out systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.”
“Any expression of religion outside a heavily regulated sphere happens in secret, and anyone caught practicing religion or even suspected of harboring religious views in private is subject to severe punishment,” it continued. “The government has been known to arrest, torture, imprison, and even execute religious believers and their family members, whether or not they are similarly religious.”
In light of the report, the commission also asked the U.S. to ensure that any future lifting of sanctions remains contingent upon the regime making “sincere and demonstrable efforts” to improve its dismal human rights record, particularly concerning religious persecution.
A 2017 report on worldwide Christian persecution found that across North Korea, Christians have undergone “unspeakable atrocities, including extra-judicial killings, forced labor, torture, persecution, starvation, rape, forced abortion, and sexual violence” as punishment for practicing their religion.
The State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report last year concluded that the regime considers Christianity a “serious threat, as it challenged the official cult of personality and provided a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the government.”
Vice President Mike Pence has also previously warned that the country’s treatment of Christians is unrivaled in its cruelty.
“North Korea’s persecution of Christians has no rival on the Earth,” he said at the State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. “It is unforgiving, systematic, unyielding and often fatal. The mere possession of a Christian Bible is a capital offense. Christians are regularly executed or condemned with their families to North Korea’s gulags.”
Other countries on the list of religious persecution included China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, and Vietnam.