North Korea: 150 interfaith religious leaders gather in 'most oppressive country in the world'

Under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, North Korea is widely considered to be the worst country in which to be a Christian.Reuters

A historic meeting of 150 religious leaders was held in North Korea this week, despite continued systematic persecution in the country.

The delegation of leaders from seven major religions in South Korea gathered across the border for the Korean Conference of Religions for Peace (KCRP).

Fides was told that the group met to "pray together for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula", and the gathering held a particular significance as it was the first time North and South religious leaders have met since Seoul's President Parco Heun-hye came to power in February 2013.

North Korea is widely considered to be the worst country in which to be a Christian, and the government maintains absolute control through the systematic repression of its citizens. According to a recent report by Aid to the Church in Need, of the 400,000-500,000 Christian population in North Korea, at least 50,000 are thought to be labouring in concentration camps, while tens of thousands of citizens, including many Christians, have defected to countries such as neighbouring South Korea, China, Mongolia and Russia.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) this year said that the country "remains one of the most oppressive regimes in the world and among the worst violators of human rights."

Amnesty International describes it as "in a category of its own when it comes to human rights violations".

However, a North Korean official earlier this year denied that Christians are persecuted in the country, branding such accusations "absolutely false". In October, 12 South Korean priests celebrated mass in Pyongyang; the first visit by a Catholic delegation since 2008.