21 December 2006
Following today's (21 December) death of Turkmenistan's dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, victims of his policies have told Forum 18 News Service that, in the words of an exiled Protestant, "the transition leaders have already praised Niyazov and his policies and vowed to continue them." The country's Foreign Minister and other officials refused to comment to Forum 18. Exiled human rights activist Farid Tukhbatullin, of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, noted that hostility to religious freedom was a "personal instruction" of Niyazov. But "this does not mean though that his subordinates were merely implementing his will," he said. "Almost all of them shared his views on this entirely." He pointed out that "the overwhelming majority of officials of the police and MSS secret police have a vested interest in preserving the current situation, under which they enjoy unlimited rights." It is unclear whether Niyazov's invented Ruhnama religion will continue to be state-imposed.
2 August 2006
In China, scholarship and the views of intellectuals are highly valued. There is tremendous interest amongst Chinese intellectuals, both scholars and officials, in religions and religious communities. Prominent intellectuals have defended religious and spiritual communities against government repression, through both internal reports and widely disseminated publications. These include, Forum 18 News Service has found, State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) officials in regular contact with scholars in Chinese universities and research institutions. Yet there is much frustration amongst scholars with their inability, due to the state's sensitivity, to conduct research on religion and religious communities in contemporary China. The role of intellectuals – whether or not they belong to a religious community - in advancing religious freedom cannot be ignored in Chinese society, Forum 18 notes. Without open and frank scholarly discussions on the topic of religion and its effects on contemporary China, genuine religious freedom faces another obstacle.
29 March 2006
Two recent reports based on testimony from North Korean refugees – one by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom - have confirmed earlier findings that religious freedom does not exist in North Korea, that local people are aware of state-sponsored acts of religious persecution and that the only state-approved religion is Juche, or self-reliance, which is closely allied to the cult of the deceased leader Kim Il-Sung. Some interviewees claimed they had witnessed or heard of extreme punishments, even death, meted out to religious believers, others recounted how some religious believers were spared such punishments. Christian organisation Open Doors has noted that North Koreans arriving in China are usually very opposed to religion in general and Christianity in particular as a result of the long-term and regular state indoctrination to which they had been subjected. Visitors to Pyongyang have told Forum 18 News Service that no regular worship takes place at the three official Christian churches in the city and that Buddhist monasteries elsewhere are neglected cultural relics.
22 November 2004
In a failed bid to head off a United Nations (UN) resolution, sponsored by the European Union and the USA, and supported by Brazil, expressing grave concern at Turkmenistan's human rights record, Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov has falsely claimed that there were "no cases of arrest or conviction on political grounds or for religious beliefs". Three religious prisoners are known to Forum 18 News Service to be held, and arrests continue to be made. On the day of the debate he claimed that there was "no truth to the allegations of limits on the rights to belief, conscience or religion," despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and the UN's two previous resolutions critical of the country's human rights record. Turkmen officials and President Niyazov have a record of making such false claims, but the country's diplomats have refused to discuss the issue of false claims with Forum 18. Countries speaking in support of Turkmenistan in the debate were Algeria, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, Sudan, Syria, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.
14 October 2004
A North Korean army general who become a Christian was, after he had begun to evangelise in his unit, shot dead by another senior army officer in 2003, Protestant sources have told Forum 18 News Service. Other known Christians are in some cases martyred by being shot, or are imprisoned. The sentence is dependent upon the situation. Forum 18 knows of the execution and torture of Christians continuing, but has not been able to establish if followers of other religions have suffered similarly. North Korean Protestants are said to be "very, very strong believers", resisting material inducements in prison to recant their faith, but when they stubbornly refuse to recant they are then shot. The state is said to be watching the increase in contacts between North Korea and the rest of the world "very carefully", and "false believers" may be used by the authorities to contact missionaries in humanitarian aid initiatives. Details of sources cannot be revealed by Forum 18, for fear of reprisals against them.
27 September 2004
Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, has two Protestant and one Catholic church, which are suspected of being "show churches" for display to foreigners, so it remains unclear whether any North Koreans will be able to or will dare to regularly attend an Orthodox church under construction. The building is funded by the North Korean state, and Forum 18 News Service has learnt that it is "65 per cent finished". By the early 1900s, about 10,000 Koreans had converted to Orthodoxy due to Russian missionaries in the now divided Korean peninsula. Dmitry Petrovsky, of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, expressed the hope to Forum 18 that links with this past missionary activity remain, as is the case with Orthodox churches in South Korea. Four North Koreans are studying at the Moscow Theological Seminary, and Petrovsky remarked to Forum 18 that they are displaying "zeal and a genuine interest in Orthodoxy".
27 July 2004
A draft law on "combating extremist activity" and amendments to existing laws about the "battle against extremist activity" do not define what "extremism" is. This makes it possible to use the proposed measures against religious communities the state dislikes, such as the unregistered Baptists. For example, concern has been expressed that the word "religious" appears 10 times in the draft law on combating extremist activity. One local lawyer told Forum 18 News Service that, if the law is passed, Kazakhstan could decide to close down religious communities based on information from oppressive regimes such as North Korea. Very few religious leaders are aware of the law's text.
25 February 2004
Although some things are known about North Korea's control over all aspects of its citizens' lives and about its chemical and biological experiments on prisoners, less is known about the country's religious life. Although religious freedom does not exist, there is dispute about how genuine religious practice is at the handful of "show churches" in the capital Pyongyang. Dusty pews suggest that they are not well used. Buddhist temples are mere cultural relics. Parents are reportedly afraid to pass on their faith to their children, as sporadic refugee accounts suggest believers are still punished for practising their faith in secret. It is often as refugees in China that North Koreans first encounter religious life. Refugees repatriated from China have reported that they are interrogated about their contacts with mainly Protestant South Korean missionaries, while the North Koreans have reportedly set up a fake Protestant church in China to lure back defectors. Evidence suggests that any religious revival in North Korea is a recent phenomenon resulting from repatriates sharing their faith. This might prove a challenge to the regime.