Pyongyang (AsiaNews/Agencies) North Korea, which is governed by one of the most repressive regimes in the world, joined the world in expressing its condolences for the death of Pope John Paul II.
Samuel Jang Jae-on, chairman of the North Korean Catholic Association, sent a message of condolences to the Vatican. Unlike most other organisations, the Association is legal because it is registered with the authorities and is under the control of Kim Jong-il's Communist regime.
In the message, Mr Jang wrote: "After hearing the bad news, I express my deepest condolences. It is with great sorrow that all Catholic believers in our country are conducting mass in memory of John Paul II. Services are being held in Pyongyang's Jangchung Cathedral and in places of worship around the country".
North Korea rejects any suggestions that it represses religious practice and claims that religious freedom is protected in its territory. The number of temples and churches around the country are evidence backing the claim.
However, reality is quite different. Only one cult is allowed in the country, that of Kim Jong-il and his late father Kim Il-sung.
The Communist regime has effectively tried to wipe out religion, especially Buddhism and Christianity. Anyone wishing to practice is forcibly required to register with organisations under Communist Party control. Brutal and violent persecution of unregistered believers and missionaries is common place.
Since the end of the Korean War in 1953 about 300,000 Christians have disappeared; so have every priest and nun, who were very likely killed.
Currently, the regime can boast 100,000 people in its labour camps where they suffer hunger and endure torture. Death is often the outcome.
Former North Korean officials and prisoners who have fled the country have stated that Christians in re-education camps are routinely singled for worse than usual maltreatment.