North Korea (MNN) — While North Korea continues to be one of the worst persecutors of Christians, the United States has removed the nation from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Lindsay Vessey, Advocacy Program Manager for Open Doors USA, says the State Department made the move over the weekend. "It is viewed as a highly-controversial issue because Open Doors believes, and so many others, North Korea hasn't done anything deserving being removed from this list."
Vessey says the timing was impeccable. "It was very interesting that it was taken off over the weekend when there would be much less media coverage of the event."
She's not sure why this concession has been made. "If you look back at the agreements that the U.S. has made with North Korea, they have violated every agreement. They have agreed for a while. They've gotten concessions from the U.S. government, such as aid, and then they've violated it a few years later."
As a result, according to news reports, North Korea said it will allegedly restart dismantling of its main nuclear facilities and allow inspections by U.N. monitors.
The 2008 Open Doors World Watch List ranked North Korea as the top violator of religious rights for the sixth year in a row. More Christians were arrested in North Korea in 2007 than in 2006. Vessey says, "There is no true religious freedom. Christians have to worship in secret. And if they're caught, they're either executed or put in prison or labor camps. And so we estimate that there are close to 200,000 Christians in North Korea in the underground church, and that one in four Christians are in prison."
While the move doesn't help or hurt Christians, Vessey says, "It kind of legitimizes North Korea. And with that legitimacy, in the future they may be able to get more concessions. And as they get more aid, essentially it props up the regime. It gives them finances so that they can stay in power."
Vessey says it's real shame "because the six party talks have been going on, and many people thought they were making progress. But at the very end of the Bush administration, to take them off the list without getting anything in return is just really disheartening for many of us."
The remaining countries on the United States terrorism blacklist are Cuba, Syria, Sudan and Iran. North Korea had been on the list since 1988.
To join Open Doors' North Korea Prayer Campaign, go to http://www.opendoorsusa.org/content/view/5/14/.