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AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin*
Restrictions on religious freedom in North Korea - which external observers rate as among the world's most severe - cannot be rated by the Pew Research Center because independent, on-the-ground observers are kept out of Kim Jong-un's secretive regime.

While this is a testimony to the methodological integrity of Pew Research, such paucity of information makes it highly problematic to assess the situation as Kim's regime claims to "enter a state of war" with South Korea and, by extension, with the U.S.

Nevertheless, the sources used by the Pew Forum to assess restrictions on religion in 198 other countries clearly indicate that North Korea's government is among the most repressive in the world with respect to religion as well as other civil and political liberties.

What do the sources say?

The U.S. State Department's 2011 Report on International Religious Freedom, for example, says that "Genuine freedom of religion does not exist" in North Korea.

The International Crisis Group describes the godlike status of Kim Jong-un: North Korean propaganda refers to the Great Leader as the 'brain' for the 'national body.' "North Koreans are indoctrinated to believe that 'freedom and national independence' are only possible by submitting to and supporting the leader - even if it means sacrificing one’s own life."

Human Rights Watch states that the government "does not allow ... religious freedom. Arbitrary arrest, detention, lack of due process, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees remain serious and pervasive problems. North Korea also practices collective punishment for various anti-state offenses, for which it enslaves hundreds of thousands of citizens in prison camps, including children."

For instance, in one of the rare cases coming to international attention, Amnesty International reports that in June, 2010, Mrs. Ri Hyun-ok, 33 years old, was publicly executed in the north-western city of Ryongchon (near the border with China) on charges of distributing Bibles and espionage. Ri Hyun-ok's parents, husband and three children were sent to a political prison camp in the north-eastern city of Hoeryong.

According to Human Rights Without Frontiers, "North Korea totally lacks religious freedom. Its religious delegations are made up of government officials. This way, the regime can claim that 'religious pluralism' exists in the country."

Freedom House observes that freedom of religion does not exist in practice. "State-sanctioned churches maintain a token presence in Pyongyang. However, intense state indoctrination and repression preclude free exercise of religion."

And the 2012 report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) concludes that in North Korea there "continue to be reports of severe religious freedom abuses ... including discrimination and harassment of both authorized and unauthorized religious activity; the arrest, torture, and possible execution of those conducting clandestine religious activity; and the mistreatment and imprisonment of asylum-seekers repatriated from China, particularly those suspected of engaging in religious activities, having religious affiliations, or possessing religious literature."

Photo: North Korean army officers punch the air as they chant slogans during a rally at Kim Il Sung Square in downtown Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, March 29, 2013. Tens of thousands of North Koreans turned out for the mass rally at the main square in Pyongyang in support of their leader Kim Jong-un's call to arms.