Correction: This article originally incorrectly identified Bruce Klingner. He is a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation. We regret the error.
The United States removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in October, but observers say Christians still have much to fear from its government.
"As long as the Kim Jong Il regime and its successors remain in control, [North Korea] is going to be a brutally repressive country," said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation and former North Korea analyst for the CIA. "It's going to continue to be a dismal future for Christians."
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that there are 467,894 Christians in North Korea and 10,592 Christian martyrs each year. Open Doors ministry lists the country as the world's worst religious persecutor.
Observers say that even the death of Kim Jong Il, rumored to be in poor health, may not improve conditions.
"Our contacts are telling us that in the short term, it doesn't matter," said Todd Nettleton, spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs. "The people who brought Kim Jong Il to the throne are not going to suddenly decide, 'Hey, let's let Christians worship freely.'"
However, Franklin Graham says he preached the gospel at Pyongyang's Bongsu Protestant Church in August with no restriction from authorities. Graham also visited the country in 2000. He and his father, evangelist Billy Graham, are the only two Americans who have been permitted to preach at Bongsu.
"Some say [the churches] are a sham, this isn't real, but I think that is a call the Lord wouldn't have us make," said Mel Cheatham, special assistant to Franklin Graham and a board member of Samaritan's Purse, which provides ...1