The US government on Tuesday released chilling interviews with North Korean refugees who witnessed bloody executions of religious believers, to highlight suppression of religious freedom in the hardline communist state.
Children as young as fourth graders were assembled to witness the punishment, according to the interviews contained in a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Another refugee related an incident in which two people were shot dead by the North Korean authorities because they were caught with bibles, according to the independent government agency that monitors freedom of religion abroad and gives recommendations to the US president.
One of the 40 North Korean refugees interviewed -- none of whom were named -- said "I saw an old man and his daughter executed because the daughter had dropped a Bible while washing clothes."
"Seven police [personnel] fired three shots each into the two victims, who had been tied to stakes a few meters from the `trial' area," the report quoted a refugee as saying.
"The force of the rifle shots, fired from 15m away, caused blood and brain matter to be blown out of their heads," according to the commission's account.
Another refugee said, "I witnessed the execution of a [Christian] pastor, two chon-do-sa [assistant pastors] and two elders [lay church officials who help lead the congregation]."
The five, accused of being "Protestant spies" and who refused to abandon their religious beliefs, were bound hand and foot and made to lie down before being crushed by a huge steam roller, the report said.
Some of their fellow parishioners assembled to watch the execution "cried, screamed out or fainted when the skulls made a popping sound as they were crushed beneath the steam roller."
David Hawk, a human rights expert who prepared the report, said the accounts of the refugees, most of whom were in their early to mid-30s, were based on experiences before 2003.
North Korea was among eight countries blacklisted last week as violators of religious freedom by the US State Department, which is involved in multilateral talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons drive.
The US says North Korea should improve its human-rights record as part of any move by Washington to normalize ties with the Stalinist state.
In the report released on Tuesday, the North Korean refugees offered trenchant testimony on the role and character of the Kim Jong-il government and the extent to which it controls the thoughts and beliefs of the North Korean people.
"Having faith in God is an act of espionage," one of them said.
Representative Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia who was among legislators at the report's launching in Congress, urged US President George W. Bush to protest China's forced repatriation of North Korean refugees who allegedly faced severe punishment on their return home.
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