Ri Hyon Ok Publicly Executed: Distributed Bible in North Korea
Ri Hyon Ok, a 33-year-old Christian woman in North Korea, was executed for distributing copies of the Bible, which is banned in the country. South Korean human rights activists revealed this event as a sign of a renewed crackdown on religion in North Korea, despite the fact that Pyongyang, the capital, was once considered "Jerusalem of the East" because of the prevalence of Christianity.
In addition to Bible distribution, Ri was accused of being a spy for South Korea and of organizing dissidents in North Korea. According to a report from the Investigative Commission on Crime Against Humanity, Ri's husband, three children, and parents were sent to a political prison on June 17, 2009, a day after she was executed in Ryongchon.
It is believed that another Christian, Seo Kum Ok, was also arrested and tortured near the city, under accusations of spying on a nuclear site for South Korea and the United States.
While freedom of religious observance is allegedly allowed in North Korea, which has authorized four state churches (Catholic, Russian Orthodox, and two Catholic), religion is strictly monitored and restricted in favour of the nation-wide cult of the personality devoted to Kim Jong Il.
A May report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom stated that there is no genuine freedom of religion in North Korea.
"What religious practice or venues exist ... (are) tightly controlled and used to advance the government's political or diplomatic agenda," the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a May report. "Other public and private religious activity is prohibited and anyone discovered engaging in clandestine religious practice faces official discrimination, arrest, imprisonment, and possibly execution."
Over 30,000 North Koreans are believed to be closet Christians, even as the government has begun infiltrating underground churches and setting traps for converts.
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