On Saturday, North Korea released two American prisoners, including one Christian missionary detained for more than two years for his evangelism. Kenneth Bae was sentenced to hard labor, and became for many American religious liberty advocates a symbol of religious persecution and oppression.
The Washington Post speculates the move signals a desire to improve the country’s terrible human rights reputation around the world.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has seemed increasingly eager to get rid of the prisoners amid growing scrutiny of his country’s human rights record by the United Nations, a process that in theory could lead to indictments of him and other senior officials in the International Criminal Court.
The U.N. inquiry “has clearly gotten under the North Korean skin,” said Scott Snyder, an expert on the country at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It suggests that they do care about their international reputation, such as it is.”
That would be welcome news, if true. Unfortunately, many others remain imprisoned, including Baptist missionary Kim Jong-uk, who was sentenced to life in prison earlier this year for trying to build underground churches.
North Korea has been designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the State Department for its record of religious freedom abuses.