“There is no excuse”: The international community must finish the work of holding North Korea to account

Content warning: This blog contains descriptions of rape, sexual violence and violence against infants


By Benedict Rogers

Almost exactly twenty years ago, CSW began to investigate the human rights situation in North Korea, and in particular the persecution of Christians.

It is fair to say that we were one of the very first human rights organisations to sound the alarm about the gravity and scale of human rights atrocities in the world’s most closed and most repressed nation.

The tragedy is that twenty years on, little has changed and the world continues to turn a blind eye.

Dislodging the bricks

In 2007 we published one of the first and most comprehensive studies of the atrocity crimes in North Korea, in a report titled North Korea: A Case to Answer, a Call to Act. In so doing, we became one of the first organisations to call for the establishment of a United Nations Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity.

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Pastors or fraudsters? Neither registered nor unregistered religious leaders are safe from the Chinese Communist Party’s false allegations

Under China’s current religious regulations, only government-approved faith leaders can carry out government-approved religious activities in government-approved sites. As a result, there are many situations in which a religious leader can find themselves on the wrong side of the law in China, even facing charges that have no apparent connection to religion but can carry lengthy sentences.

The widely-reported cases of Pastor Wang Yi and Pastor Yang Hua highlight how the Chinese authorities prosecute leaders of unregistered Protestant churches with flagrantly baseless criminal charges: ‘inciting to subvert state power’ and ‘illegal business operations’ for Wang and ‘divulging state secrets’ for Yang. Alarmingly, fraud charges seem to have become one of the most damaging tools that the authorities use against pastors, for persecution as well as defamation.

Elder Zhang Chunlei

On 1 May 2021, the day the new administrative measures on religious clergy came into effect, Love Reformed Church received a notice saying their leader Zhang Chunlei had been officially arrested ‘on suspicion of fraud’. To this, the unregistered church in Guiyang in Guizhou province expressed incredulity in a prayer update issued on the same day.

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Christmas in China’s prison cells: Remembering Zhang Zhan and others over the festive period

I love Christmas. I especially love the fact that it comes right in the middle of the darkest part of the year here in the UK. Just when I’ve had about enough of the cold, dark, rainy British wintertime, everything is brightened up by Christmas decorations in my neighbours’ windows, trees along our street festooned with lights, and plans for good times ahead with family and friends. 2020 is sure to be a Christmas like no other, including in the UK, but there are still things we can do to remind us of the festive spirit.

Just last week I received a lovely Christmas card with a heartfelt message. It came at just the right time, as I’d been thinking about friends and activists in China. This always makes me sad, not only because it’s impossible to visit the country right now, but more because so many of them – being Christian leaders, human rights lawyers or citizen journalists – will be spending Christmas and New Year in prison cells far away from their loved ones. Contemplating their situation, and the Chinese government’s crackdown on Christians, it seemed ironic to me that the card I held in my hands was ‘made in China’.

Zhang Zhan. Credit: Twitter/@consultorzhang

Take for example Zhang Zhan, a Christian citizen journalist and human rights defender. Zhang was one of the brave few who attempted to report the truth in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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VIDEO: Religious Freedom in Cuba: The lived reality

Marilín Alayo Correa is a Cuban pastor and a leader within the Apostolic Movement. Marilín is also married to Apostle Alain Toledano Valiente, who is one of the key leaders in the Apostolic Movement. As a result of their work, both Marilín and her husband have been extensively targeted by the Cuban authorities for over two decades.

Most recently, Marilín shared a video testimony with CSW reflecting on her family’s story and the situation for religious groups in Cuba nearly 15 years after CSW began documenting the family’s case. In the past year, her husband Alain has also been placed on a travel restriction list and is regularly summoned to appear at their local police station.

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FoRB on the Frontlines: “We were ready for one of the family to be killed”

Dabrina Bet-Tamraz is an Iranian Christian human rights defender who currently resides in exile in Europe. In her home country, her entire family faces intense pressure from the Iranian government; her father, mother and brother have been charged with national security-related crimes for participating in everyday religious activities.

Dabrina has dedicated her life to advocating for her family and others like them facing persecution in Iran. She has raised their cases at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, as well as with President Donald Trump when she attended the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in the USA. In this interview she sheds light on her experiences as a young Christian in Iran, and on the current situation for her family and other Christians in the country.

“Growing up as a Christian in Iran, it was always obvious we were treated differently. Until I was about ten, the church experienced a decade of severe persecution. Pastors were being killed, churches were under massive pressure, and my parents were regularly taken in for interrogation.

When I was a teenager we were constantly under surveillance; we were bugged and there were spies in the church. It began to make us question everything everyone says. We didn’t know who we could trust.

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