The head of an organization that supports persecuted Christians blasted the World Council of Churches for claiming that the Church in North Korea has freedom.
Calling the WCC's comments "unbelievable," Glenn Penner, chief executive officer at The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, wrote on VOM's persecuted church weblog: "Freedom? Some limitations? Challenge to do mission in a different societal system? Where do I begin to pick apart such a singularly silly statement?"
Penner's stinging words were in response to comments made by Prawate Khid-arn, a leading WCC representative and general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, after his first visit to North Korea.
"The Church (in North Korea) still has the freedom to carry out its mission, but of course, still has some limitations. The challenge of the church is how to do its mission in a different societal system," he said, according to the news agency Ecumenical News International.
Khid-arn was part of a WCC delegation that visited the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Oct. 17-20. The delegation, which included General Secretary the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, visited churches in the capital, Pyongyang.
Kobia preached to a crowd of nearly 200 people at Bong Soo Church, then visited the smaller Chilgol Church, and lastly attended a supposed 12-member house church near Pyongyang, according to WCC.
During the visit, the WCC delegation also met with North Korean President Kim Yong-nam – who is under the power of Kim Jong-il, the Supreme Leader – to discuss the nuclear weapon stand-off in the region.
In its report, the WCC was seemingly sympathetic to North Korea's argument that the Six Party Talks were unfair because all the members except for North Korea are nuclear powers or are under the nuclear protection of the United States.
Kim reportedly told the church delegation that the region needs to be denuclearized and the way to solve the problem is for North Korea and the United States to meet "face-to-face with each other."
North Korea is perceived by the international community as a rogue and capricious nation with a tendency to engage in erratic and dangerous behaviors, such as the launching of missiles directed at Japan and the pursuit of building nuclear weapons.
The communist regime is also known for imposing laws that have given it the title of the world's worst human rights violator.
North Korean defectors have testified before the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and the U.S. Congress on the abuse they endured in prison camps.
"In a political prison camp in North Korea, one must forget that he or she is a human being," said 49-year-old Kim Tae Jin Kim, who defected to China in 1986 to escape North Korea, at a U.N. Commission on Human Rights hearing in 2005. "I had to do many things to survive. I carefully watched a dog so that I could steal its food. I ate snakes, frogs, rats and anything that could be a source of nutrition."
Kim, a Christian, was repatriated by Chinese authorities after they found a Bible among his belongings.
In prison, he said he had to swallow a nail and was beaten with a burning wooden log. Despite the abuse, he still had to carry out hard labor daily on minimal amounts of food.
He escaped and arrived in South Korea in 2001. He now serves as the director of missionary works at NKGulag and is chairman of the Special Committee for North Korean Gulag Dismantlement.
Human rights experts, through interviews with defectors, have long reported that there is no religious freedom in the reclusive country.
All citizens are expected to worship current dictator Kim Jong-il and his deceased father. Every house in North Korea has a framed photo of Kim Jong-il and his statues and photos are located in public spaces throughout the country.
Being found a Christian is one of the worst crimes in the country. There are an estimated 400,000 Christians in North Korea who live under the constant threat of imprisonment, torture or public execution if authorities discover their Christian faith. Of the some 200,000 people detained in North Korea, there are an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 Christians, according to Open Doors USA.
Open Doors, a group that works with persecuted Christians, has for seven straight years ranked North Korea as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world.
In his blog, VOM's Penner denounced the WCC for showing "greater concern with supporting anti-western regimes than they are in uncovering and stating the entire truth and publicly standing together with their brothers and sisters who are paying the price for a faith they claim to believe in."
The WCC delegation along with four North Korean church leaders, several dozen leaders from South Korea, and church leaders from 25 other countries are currently participating in a consultation held in Hong Kong on peace, reconciliation and the reunification of the Korean peninsula. The meeting ends Friday.