Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Date: Tuesday 16 December 2008
Subj: Indonesia: Islamisation and Polarisation
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

-- religious freedom-related violence increasing
-- President enacts anti-pornography bill


The Jakarta Post reports: "Religious violence is on the rise in the world's largest Muslim country according to a report by the Wahid Institute http://www.wahidinstitute.org/ , which places the blame on the government for its failing to crack down on radical groups.

"The institute, a moderate Islamic think tank founded by former president Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid to promote pluralism in Indonesia, reported that religious freedom-related violence had increased throughout the country, with 232 cases reported this year compared to 197 last year.

"Many of the incidences of violence were perpetrated by state authorities, according to the annual report released on Human Rights Day, Wednesday [10 Dec].

"'The acts of violence against religious freedom were 60 percent carried out by civilian groups and 33 percent by the state,' the report said.

"It said the state perpetrators included local administrations, police, legislators, courts and the Religious Affairs Ministry.

"Civilian perpetrators were identified as members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Communications Forum for Religious Harmony.

"The frequency and severity of the violence increased from last year, the report said. It noted that the government had been weak in administering punishment, which it said set a worrisome trend for the future.

"The institute said violations against religious freedom had come in the form of physical attacks, raids, destruction of houses of worship and accusations of apostasy and heresy . . . " (Link 1)


On 26 November 2008, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) enacted a controversial anti-pornography law. Yudhoyono's special staff for legal affairs Denny Indrayana told The Jakarta Post: "It becomes Law No. 44/2008 on anti-pornography. The President signed it because it was already a national consensus." (Link 2)

Indrayana's statement is misleading on two counts: the law is not about pornography as much as it about Islamisation; and there is no national consensus.

The anti-pornography law was pushed through parliament in October by conservative Muslim parties including the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Crescent Star Party (or PBB). It passed in the legislature on 30 October to cries of "Allahu Akbar" (God is great). (Link 3)

Many analysts believe that SBY's enactment of the law is pure electioneering aimed at of securing the support of the Islamic parties ahead of the 2009 presidential elections. However, by this action he is also polarising the electorate and feeding regional instability.

The anti-pornography law is both staggeringly broad and hopelessly vague. Furthermore, as the law encourages citizens to report offences to police, there are concerns that Islamic vigilantes will seek to enforce its standards.

Indonesia's legislative elections are slated for April 2009, with the presidential election to be held three months later in July. Once again we are observing that oft-forgotten factor in multi-party politics: no party is as powerful as the one holding the balance of power, especially if that party also has the power to destabilise the State and bring down an elected government through the mobilisation of demonstrations, riots, crippling strikes and even sectarian conflict.


The journal "Inside Indonesia" has published an excellent analysis of the anti-pornography law entitled "A law on pornography still divides the community", by Helen Pausacker, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne's Law School. (Link 4)

Pausacker tracks the progress of the law from when it first emerged in the 1990s as the Anti-Pornography and Porno-Action Bill only to lie dormant until 2005-06 when it was revived and hotly debated before the strength of outcry against it led to it being withdrawn.

Pausacker writes: "The bill that was proposed in 2005-06 would not just have criminalised hard pornography. It would also have made illegal many kinds of theatre and dance performances, art, forms of dress (such as baring the shoulders and legs) and behaviour of individuals (such as kissing on the lips in public), displaying 'sensual parts' of the body or 'erotic dancing'. 'Sensual parts' of the body were specifically defined in Article 4 of the Elucidation of the 2005-06 version of the bill as 'the genitals, thighs, hips, buttocks, navel and female breasts, whether in whole or in part'."

Clearly such a bill would trigger chaos in a state as diverse as Indonesia, where mature tribal Javanese and Melanesian women still go around bare breasted; Balinese women dance -- some may say erotically -- with navels showing; many Papuan men wear only penis-gourds; and many progressive Indonesians as well as tourists from all over the world enjoy wearing shorts, singlet-tops and even bikinis on the beaches. Furthermore, the proposed penalties were to be harsh, with hefty fines and lengthy prison terms.

Pausacker continues: "Two years later, in September 2008, legislators introduced a revised version of the bill to the legislature (DPR), with some of them hoping that it would be passed quickly. The outcry was again great -- five thousand people demonstrated in Bali and there were demonstrations in Yogyakarta. . . . However, despite the strong views expressed both in favour of and against the bill, it was eventually passed on 30 October 2008.

"When it became clear that there were sufficient numbers in the legislature to pass the bill, two parties -- Megawati Soekarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDIP) and the nationalist, Christian party, the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) -- walked out of the debate in protest. Regional loyalty was also so strong that two Balinese legislators from Golkar, Lisnawati Karna and Gede Sumarjaya Linggih, walked out when Golkar stated its approval of the bill. . . . The 30 October version of the bill was ratified by the president on 26 November as Law No. 44 of 2008 on Pornography, with no substantial changes."

Pausacker's article describes the revisions made to the 2005-06 bill which subsequently passed in October 2008. She notes that while the bill has been substantially shortened it has not been watered down -- rather it has been made less specific leaving the interpretation open to the courts.

"The definition of 'pornography' in the 30 October 2008 version passed by the DPR and the final law is vague enough to include some 'pornographic actions'. It states: 'pornography is pictures, sketches, illustrations, photos, writing, voice, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, conversations, movements of the body, or other forms through a variety of communication media and/or performances in public which contain obscenity or sexual exploitation which violates the moral norms in society' (Article 1)."

Pausacker also explains that the penultimate (September 2008) version of the bill protected cultural expression by making it clear that exceptions would be made for regional interests so that their local customs would not be interpreted as pornographic.

However, Pausacker continues, "This article is missing from the final law. Instead, the law includes the following statement at the beginning: 'This Law aims to: […] respect, protect and preserve the artistic and cultural values, [regional] cultural practices and religious rituals of the pluralistic Indonesian society' (Article 3b). There is no clear statement of exceptions, except for the vague phrase in Article 13(1) of the Elucidation that the definition of what is pornography also depends on the context, stating that in specific contexts, a photo of a model wearing a bikini, bathers or beachwear would not be seen as pornographic.

"The emphasis of the earlier versions and the final version were quite different. The earlier versions suggested that exceptions would be made for particular regions and customs when judging an accusation of pornography. The final law suggests that regional views have already been taken into account in the drafting of the law, where in fact the contrary is the case: the final version provides the least clear protection of regional interests."

This is why regions such as Hindu-populated Bali, as well as Papua and other Christian-populated regions such as North Sulawesi have protested so strongly.

Hostility, tensions and conflict are likely to escalate not only from regions, but within them. Pausacker notes that in Bali, the Governor and former police general, Made Mangku Pastika and speaker of the Balinese Regional Peoples Representative Council (DPRD), Ida Bagus Putu Wesnawa, have voiced their opposition to the bill and stated their intention to not implement it. Meanwhile, Bali's Chief Inspector of Police, General Teuku Ashikin Husein (who, Pausacker notes, is not Balinese, and has previously worked in Aceh and Southeast Sulawesi) has issued a public statement that the law was 'positive' and that his office would be enforcing it. (See also link 5.)

This scenario also opens the door for extortion and police corruption.

In Muslim-majority areas there is a particular danger of talibanisation and Islamic vigilantism. This danger is fuelled not only by the zeal generated by the legitimisation of Islamic demands, but from the law itself which states, in Article 21(1), that members of the community have the right to report infringements.

Pausacker notes: "The Elucidation to Article 21(1) specifically states 'that the community is not to perform acts which take the law into their own hands, acts of violence, raids (sweeping), or other acts which are against the law'. Despite this Elucidation (which both members of the general public and vigilante groups will often not read) some critics have expressed concern that vigilante groups will try to enforce the law themselves. [. . .] Critics of the law are right to feel concerned because for years violent raids by vigilante groups on bars or brothels in the fasting month have gone unchecked by police."

Ifdal Kassim, chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said the law, which would invade people's privacy, could trigger human rights violations and will create disharmony among the people. (Link 6)

Surpiyadi Widodo Eddyono, the legal services coordinator for the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) also raised concerns. "Some articles are not for the protection of human rights. There are loopholes that could be misinterpreted."
According to The Jakarta Post, he is encouraging activists to petition the Constitutional Court for a judicial review of the law. (Link 6)

Sidney Jones, head of the South-east Asia section of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group comments: "The bill goes deep into the Muslim mainstream. There is an increasing push from some Muslim groups and some Muslim parties to give the state a greater role in legislating morality."

According to Jones, this trend is even taking root in the country's large secular parties like Golkar, which threw its weight behind the anti-pornography bill. "'There has been a kind of Islamisation of Golkar,' Jones revealed. 'The political parties are under pressure from an active civil society movement on the Muslim right.'" (Link 7)

According to opposition lawmaker Eva Sundari, who voted against the law in parliament, "The goal of this law is to become a legal umbrella for groups pushing for Sharia [Islamic law]." (Link 8)

So now as we head towards the 2009 elections, not only have pro-Sharia Islamic fundamentalists been further empowered and emboldened, but a situation has been created where any racist or Islamic fundamentalist police officer or vigilante-Islamic-morals-enforcer in (for example) Melanesian-Christian Papua will be able to exploit the anti-pornography law in order to persecute and/or extort any member of the local community who does not submit to the Islamised standard.

Such violent and repressive Islamic cultural imperialism should have no place in a diverse, pluralist, progressive, secular state.

By Elizabeth Kendal


1) Cases of religious violence up: Report
Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, 11 Dec 2008

2) SBY signs porn law, protesters despair
By Abdul Khalik, Jakarta, 9 Dec 2008

3) Indonesian parliament passes anti-porn bill. 30 Oct 2008

A law on pornography still divides the community.
By Helen Pausacker, 15 Dec 2008

5) Bali police will enforce pornography law: Chief
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, 10 Nov 2008

6) Porn law casts a shadow over human rights
Indah Setiawati and Ni Komang Erviani, Jakarta, Denpasar, 10 Dec 2008

7) Culture-Indonesia: Anti-Porn Law Reveals Growing Islamist Power
By Marwaan Macan-Markar. Inter Press Service.

8) Indonesian anti-porn law cramps Papuans' style
By Aubrey Belford, AFP, Kurulu, Indonesia, 10 Dec 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Maluku, Eastern Indonesia: "blasphemy" triggers pogrom

Date: Friday 12 December 2008
Subj: Maluku, Eastern Indonesia: "blasphemy" triggers pogrom
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

On Tuesday 9 December, Muslims rioted in response to rumours that Welhelmina Holle, a Christian teacher at SD Masohi elementary school, had insulted Islam in a comment he made while tutoring a sixth grade student. Masohi is about 120km east of Ambon on Seram island in the eastern Indonesia province of Central Maluku.

According to the Jakarta Post, the student reported the offence to his parents and news of the alleged blasphemy spread through the Muslim community. The local chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) lodged a complaint with the police and by 8:30am some 500 Muslims were demonstrating outside the Central Maluku Education Agency in Masohi. After an hour there, they moved on to the Central Maluku Police headquarters some 500m away, where they sought to meet with Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Eko Widodo to demand that the teacher be dismissed and made to face the law. After learning that Police Chief Eko Widodo was away in Ambon, the protesters dispersed. However after one group clashed with police, other Muslims started throwing rocks and rioting quickly spread.

Two churches, a health clinic and some 67 homes were torched. Four public transport vehicles and a motorcycle inside a bus terminal were also burnt. At least six people sustained injuries requiring hospitalisation and two of these are in a serious condition.

Eventually some 400 extra riot police and soldiers were brought in and peace was restored. Maluku Provincial Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. J. Huwae told the Jakarta Post that "a large part of the community sought refuge at the barracks of the 731st Kabaressy infantry battalion". (Link 1)

Antara News reports that police are seeking witnesses who can testify concerning the incident. The accused teacher is in police custody and, according to Central Maluku Regional Secretary N Sukur, if he is found guilty he will be given an administrative sanction. (Link 2)


Maluku, which was wracked with sectarian violence and Islamic jihad from 1999 to 2001, has been relatively peaceful since the "Moluccas Agreement of Malino" peace deal was signed in February 2002.

The worst violence in Maluku was perpetrated by outsiders, such as the Java-based Laskar Jihad and other jihadists -- many of them foreigners -- who travelled to Maluku to "defend" Islam. With the expulsion of militants, local Muslims and Christians have been able to reconcile and rebuild their communities, many which are still mixed.

Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group believes that as long as Java-based Islamic militants stay out of the Maluku region, it is likely the area will stay peaceful. "'If it stays local, we're probably okay,' Jones said. 'And, one of the interesting things is that a lot of the people there specifically referred to the earlier conflict and not wanting to see it get out of hand. It's a case of whether or not some of these guys in Java take it as a green light to come in and scope things out. I think it'll probably be okay.'" (Link 3)

But this rioting is very concerning. Is violent, anti-Christian, Islamic intolerance that close to the surface? Has Islamic radicalisation reached a critical tipping point? Is the peace only a facade subject to hair-trigger fragility?


Article 156 (a) of the Indonesian Criminal Code establishes a minimum sentence of five years in prison for anyone found guilty of "expressing feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt against ethnic groups or religions".

According to Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani, founder of the Centre for Law Information, this article was taken from Presidential Decree No. 1/PNPS/1965 on the Prevention of Blasphemy and Abuse of Religions. "The decree provides the State with a power to judge whether a certain belief is heretic or blasphemous and to imprison those convicted of the charges -- about the same authority awarded to the Inquisition which has been abolished by the Roman Catholic Church.

"The decree, enacted by Sukarno and formalised into law by Soeharto, is as a tool of power management. Politicians during those times felt the need to control religious leaders and subordinate them within their power structure." According to Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani reasoning, the law violates the Indonesian constitution. (Link 4)

On Thursday 12 December, The Jakarta Post reported: "The Central Maluku Police have named two people, Welhemina Holle and Asmara Wasahua, as suspects for sparking the riot.

"Welhemina is being charged under Article 156 of the Criminal Code on blasphemy, which carries a maximum of 15 years' imprisonment.

"Asmara, who led a rally Tuesday that turned into a riot, is being charged under Articles 160 and 161 of the same law on encouraging criminal behaviour.

"Asmara, chairman of the Central Maluku Muslims Communication Forum, was caught on film allegedly provoking ralliers." (Link 5)

So Christian elementary school teacher Welhelmina Holle will be charged with blasphemy, and if Indonesia's Islamic fundamentalists have their way, he will be convicted and given far more than an "administrative sanction". And this would set a frightening precedent.

This is most certainly a case to watch.

By Elizabeth Kendal


1) Church, homes burned in Masohi blasphemy riot
M. Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon, 10 Dec 2008

2) Masohi tense, two injured. 9 Dec 2008

3) Indonesia Sends Troops to Quell Sectarian Violence in Maluku Islands
By Nancy-Amelia Collins, Jakarta, 10 December 2008

4) Ruling against blasphemy
Opinion and Editorial -- 3 Dec 2007
Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani, Jakarta

5) Masohi in recovery, two named suspects
M. Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Masohi, 11 Dec 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Maldives: reform in politics but not in religious liberty

Date: Tuesday 9 December 2008
Subj: Maldives: reform in politics but not in religious liberty
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

On Saturday 29 November 08, Maldives' Ministry of Islamic Affairs announced that it would block a Dhivehi and English language website which it claimed was promoting Christianity amongst Maldivians.

When Minivan News, an independent news source in Maldives, sought to question Islamic Affairs Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari over the censorship and the contents of the website, he refused to be drawn. So Minivan News did its own investigations. "On Tuesday, as Minivan News searched for the site, it came across one (www.sidahitun.com) which contained material about Jesus Christ and Christian songs published in Dhivehi. The following morning, access to the site was denied."

Minivan reports: "Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed Ahmed, known for his inflammatory sermons, agreed that all anti-Islamic websites should be banned. 'Although this is an Islamic society, some Maldivians' faith in Islam is not very strong,' he said. 'If they have access to these websites, because their belief in Islam is weak, there might be a negative impact.' . . .

"A similar view was upheld by scholar Sheikh Usman Abdullah who said that as the Maldives is recognised as a wholly Muslim society, all anti-Islamic activities, including websites promoting Christianity, should be banned. . . .

"Human rights undergraduate Hamza Latheef, 23, said while the ministry has not officially acknowledged the existence of non-Muslim communities in the Maldives, the fact they wanted to block websites with Christian evangelical content may indicate the reality of the situation. . . .

"The constitution of the Maldives states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression as long as it is not in a manner contrary to any tenet of Islam.

"The Protection of Religious Unity Act (Law No. 6/94) guards against all anti-Islamic activities in the Maldives." (Link 1)


On 29 October 08 history was made in Islamic Maldives when a peaceful transition of power was achieved through free and fair democratic elections. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom -- an Islamic scholar who had ruled Maldives as a dictator for some 30 years -- was defeated in a presidential run-off by former political prisoner, torture victim and long-time reform-advocate Mohammad Nasheed (popularly known as "Anni") of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

On 3 September 08, Maldives' six presidential candidates appeared on a panel to answer questions on their political aspirations. Nasheed told state television that if he were elected president he would run a compassionate government committed to reducing the cost of living, improving housing, improving inter-island trade and transport, improving healthcare, eliminating monopolies and corruption in fish markets, and developing more equity in service provision across island communities. Concerning human rights he said: "It is very important for the citizens' human rights to be protected."

"Our country is moving towards a change," he said. "No one should doubt this. We are escaping from censorship of freedom of expression, and from barriers to human rights today. We are going to another Maldives, to Aneh Dhivehi Raajje [other Maldives]." (Link 2)

However, as Minivan writer Ibrahim Mohamed noted on 3 December, "There may have been a change in government, but so far, this has not extended into the sphere of religion." (Link 3)


- there is none more powerful than he who holds the balance of power!

The Maldivian Democratic Party is a broad party whose members have dissented from Gayoom's dictatorship for a variety of reasons. While all MDP members were moving away from Gayoom's dictatorship in pursuit of liberty and rights, some were moving towards the West while others were moving towards an even more intolerant fundamentalist Islam.

The party's religious fundamentalist right-wing faction wields considerable power. When they railed against Nasheed's nomination of Dr. Aminath Jameel as his running mate -- deeming it un-Islamic on the grounds that she was a woman -- the gender-equity-advocate Nasheed withdrew his nomination.

Further to this, in order to win the presidential election, Nasheed formed a coalition which included the very small, hard-line, right-wing, Islamic fundamentalist Adaalath (or Adhaalath) Party.

Religion has become a powerful tool in Maldivian politics and it featured highly throughout the presidential campaign. President Gayoom accused the opposition of being "Christian" (an offensive name for those deemed to be not sufficiently Islamic), while Adaalath challenged President Gayoom's re-election bid in the Supreme Court claiming that he was "without doubt an infidel" on the grounds that he opposed things such as Sharia-mandated amputations and mandatory veiling, and had publicly declared music to be "halal" (permissible) (see Link 4).

Meanwhile, in June 2008, President Gayoom's Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, under pressure from the Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) and the Adaalath Party, banned the book "Freedom of Religion, Apostasy in Islam" -- co-authored by former Attorney-General and presidential candidate Dr Hassan Saeed -- on the grounds that it "violates Islamic principles". (Link 5)

The book was published in 2004 and is not available for sale in Maldives. Yet, after four years without controversy, Maldivian Islamic forces decided the presidential campaign was a perfect time to deal with the blasphemies and heresies of their competitor. (This might explain Dr Saeed's change of tone in August 2008 when he supported the Islamic nature of the new Constitution on the grounds that "we do not have a non-Muslim population". His presidential canditure had just suffered a major blow.)

It all makes one wonder -- what sort of deals has the reformist Nasheed brokered to bring Adaalath on side?


When Nasheed announced his cabinet in early November, Adaalath Scholar's council president, Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari -- who believes music is "haram" (forbidden: see link 6) and apostates should be executed (see link 7) -- was named Minister of Islamic Affairs. Further to this, the new Ministry of Islamic Affairs (which has replaced Gayoom's Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs) is dominated by Adaalath Party members.

Ibrahim Mohamed reports: "Every single Friday prayer, since the inauguration of the new government, has been led by a religious figure from Adaalath. Only scholars associated with the Adaalath party are allowed to give previously unseen sermons; all other Imams are asked to read sermons pre-approved by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs." (Link 3)

This has the appearance of a Saudi-style deal, where Islamic hardliners are given full control over religion in exchange for "peace", political security, and the Islamic legitimisation of the ruling party. This is pragmatism at its worst, for such an arrangement guarantees Islamic fundamentalism a free ride.


On 24 November, Minivan News Briefs reported that a Maldivian man is being investigated for importing an English language Bible into the country. According to the Maldives Customs Service, the item is illegal and the police are now investigating the matter. (Link 8)

As reported, on 29 November the Adaalath Party-dominated Ministry for Islamic Affairs closed down a website that gave Maldivians access to Christian information and resources in their own language.

So whatever happened to reform and human rights, and to "escaping from censorship of freedom of expression"? Reform has come to Maldives -- but only to politics, not to religious liberty.

By Elizabeth Kendal


1) Ministry To Block Access To Christian Website
By Ibrahim Mohamed, for Minivan News, 4 Dec 2008

2) Presidential Q&A: What The Candidates Said (complete transcript)
By Zaheena Rasheed and Shauna Aminath in Male, 7 Sept 2008

3) The Islamic Challenge: Religion And Politics
By Ibrahim Mohamed, for Minivan News, 3 Dec 2008

4) Dark side of Maldives' new democracy
Praveen Swami for The Hindu, 15 Oct 2008

5) Supreme Council Bans Hassan Saeed's Book
By Judith Evans in Male, 18 Jun 2008

6) Maldivian Artists and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. 13 Nov 2008

7) Apostasy Punishable By Death: Top Adhaalath Scholar
By Judith Evans in Male, 13 May 2008
The Adhaalath stake. 23 Oct 2008

8) Man Investigated For Bible Import.
Minivan News Brief, 24 Nov 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

North Korea returns to isolation

Date: Tuesday 2 December 2008
Subj: North Korea returns to isolation
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

In August 2007 WEA RLC News & Analysis released a posting: "North Korea: ' . . . though your footsteps were not seen' "(LINK 1), which detailed several steps being taken on the path of north-south reconciliation towards re-unification. The purpose of that posting was to bring some positive thinking into a debate often characterised by provocative and belligerent rhetoric.

WEA RLC has long maintained that an all-round positive outcome for North Korea (reform without bloodshed) can only be achieved through gradual openness alongside a strategy for maintaining stability. The State is highly militarised and its civilian population, particularly outside Pyongyang, is terribly weak due to starvation, isolation, brainwashing and repressive State-terror, making it highly unlikely that a "people's revolution" would ever be attempted, or if it were, could ever be successful. WEA RLC therefore viewed every step that increased openness, equity and engagement with the outside world as a positive step towards building a foundation upon which a brighter future could be built.

These positive steps -- such as: proliferation of public markets and cross-border trade; Korean unity under the unification flag at the Olympic Games; the May 2007 opening of the north-south cross-border rail link; and the benefits (both economic and relational) of the Kaesong Industrial Park -- were presented as "'handles' to take hold of in prayer for North Korea".

Sadly, virtually all the positive steps listed in that posting have now been reversed.

In its efforts to regain total control over people's lives (particularly their minds), the regime has been increasingly cracking down on public markets and is attempting to re-Stalinise the state. In August 2008 escalating north-south tensions led to the two Koreas competing in the Beijing Olympics under separate flags. On Monday 1 December 2008, the regime closed the north-south rail link, put an end to South Korean tours to the Mount Kumgang tourist resort, and sent about half the South Korean staff of the Kaesong Industrial Park home to South Korea.

North Korea has returned to isolation.


North Korea expert Andrei Lankov explains that North Korea's Stalinist system collapsed during the early 1990s after the fall of Communism in Europe and the break up of the USSR. Not long after North Korea lost its Soviet patron, the state lost its leader when Kim Il-sung died in 1994. The result was "unprecedented social disruption and economic disaster culminating in the Great Famine of 1996-99, with its 1 million dead". (Link 2)

According to Lankov, it was during this time that "all economic activity moved to the booming private markets. . . . The Stalinist system imploded and a new grassroots capitalism took over." The regime, says Lankov, did not approve, but could not control it, especially as high level corruption flourished.

Lankov sees the 2002 policy shift on decriminalising markets, not as a "reform" but as a simple belated tacit approval of something the government could not eradicate. But, he says, by 2004 the regime was beginning to crack down, looking for ways to turn the clock back.

Lankov concludes: "It seems that North Korean leaders believe that their system cannot survive major liberalisation. They might be correct in the pessimism. Their country faces a choice that is unknown to China and Vietnam. . . . It is the existence of South Korea . . . a rich and free country that speaks the same language and shares the same culture" (i.e. it cannot be discounted as "foreign").

Lankov writes: "Were North Korea to reform, the disparities with South Korea would become only starker to its population. This might produce a grave political crisis, so the North Korean government seemingly believes that in order to stay in control it should avoid tampering with the system. Maintaining the information blockade is of special importance, since access to the overseas information might easily show the North Koreans both the backwardness of their country and the ineptitude of their government." As Lankov notes, aid has been used to bolster internal security by feeding the "politically valuable parts of the population -- such as the military or the police".

Lankov regards the real "backward movement" as starting around October 2005 when the regime re-introduced the Public Distribution System and outlawed the sale of grain in the markets. Since December 2007 only women over the age of 50 have been permitted to trade in markets. The men and younger women are being pushed back to the factories -- most of which are unprofitable or dead -- primarily, Lankov says, for the purpose of surveillance, indoctrination and control.

Border security has been stepped up. Venues where information could be exchanged are being raided and closed. There has been a crackdown on mobile phones (Link 3). In September 2007 Daily North Korea reported that a crackdown had been launched to halt the spread of religion amongst North Korean soldiers. (Link 4 - must read!)

The crackdown against the Kaesong Industrial Park is tragic. Kaesong Industrial Park -- which opened in Kaesong, North Korea, in December 2004 -- housed 88 South Korean firms and provided jobs for some 35,000 North Koreans.

Tensions escalated in mid-October around a month after rumours started to circulate about Kim Jong-Il's health (i.e., that he has suffered a stroke: Link 5). The regime in the north complained to the government in the south about South Korean NGOs sending leaflet-laden balloons across the border. The regime in the north made it clear that if the government in the south did not stop the NGOs then the North would retaliate by closing down the Kaesong Industrial Park.

Lankov believes the northern regime is using its supposed indignation over the South Korean NGO balloon-transported leaflets as a mere pretext to crack down on Kaesong after having determined that the considerable economic benefits that Kaesong provides to North Korea are not worth the risk that Kaesong presents to regime survival.

Lankov regards Kaesong as something of an anachronism: a survivor of the days of unprecedented relaxation between 2002 and 2004. "Now it seems this anachronism is not going to last, it has become too dangerous; the era of openness is well and truly over. The measure is likely to prolong the agony of North Korea . . ." (Link 6)

Lankov laments: "Hawks in Washington might hope that the decision will deprive the North Korean regime of revenue, thus bringing its end closer. But they are wrong. The regime can survive in isolation -- actually, it can survive only in isolation. Starving people do not rebel; they just die, especially when they have no idea that a different way of life is possible.

"Kaesong offered a glimmer of light, but now this is being snuffed out, to the peril of the long-suffering people of North Korea."

According to Daily North Korea (DNK), from January 2009 North Korea's markets will only open once every ten days. Sources told DNK they expect "resistance of North Korean citizens will be strong" and "the possibility of actual policy implementation is deemed low" primarily due to high-level corruption. (Link 7)

It remains to be seen if Kim Jong-Il and/or the military regime around him can successfully drag North Korea back a decade. Not everyone will submit. Will there be revolt? Will there be conflict? There will certainly be a massive increase in violent repression and death. Religious liberty is not coming to North Korea any time soon.

By Elizabeth Kendal


1) North Korea: ". . .though your footsteps were not seen".
WEA RLC News & Analysis, 24 Aug 2007
By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

2) North Korea dragged back to the past
By Andrei Lankov, 24 Jan 2008

3) North Korea's Regulation of Mobile Phones Led by National Security Agency
By Choi Choel Hee, 22 Feb 2008

4) Committee for Democratization of North Korea Launches an Indoctrination Document within the Army
By Kim Yong Hun, 10 Sept 2007

5) N Korean leader suffered stroke: Seoul intelligence
SEOUL (AFP), 9 Sept 2008

6) Pyongyang puts politics above dollars
Andrei Lankov, 25 Nov 2008

7) North Korean Authorities Order Markets to Open Every 10 days, from 2009
By Jeong Jae Sung, 21 Nov 2008