The North Korean government continued to punish those engaging in religious practices last year, with executions, torture and other abuse, the US State Department said in an annual report Tuesday.
In the 2016 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, the department reconfirmed human rights abuses the North has long been accused of, including its denial of the right to religious freedom.
"The government continued to deal harshly with those who engaged in almost any religious practices through executions, torture, beatings, and arrests," the report said. "An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions."
This file photo shows the U.S. Department of State in Washington. (Yonhap)
Last year's report pointedly said the exercise of religious freedom continued to be nearly "nonexistent" in North Korea. But that word was dropped this year.
Also noted this year was the department's July submission of the first biannual Report on Human Rights Abuses and Censorship in North Korea to Congress. That report identified eight entities and 15 government officials, including North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as responsible for or tied to grave human rights abuses or censorship.
Since 2001 the department has designated North Korea as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act for having "engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom."
The North was last redesignated as a CPC in October.
In South Korea, the report said the government detained and imprisoned conscientious objectors to mandatory military service.
"Most conscientious objectors refused military service for religious reasons," it said. "The number of conscientious objectors refusing military service for nonreligious reasons is also on the rise, according to local NGOs, lawyers, and religious groups." (Yonhap)