The poverty-struck nation of 25 million has been afforded the opportunity to watch five hours a day of live Olympic coverage – although viewing is of course limited to those with electricity. Featured interviews on North Korean television shows citizens proclaiming their adoration for Kim Jong Un.

Yang Moo Jin, a professor at University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, says that North Koreans have a lot resting on their Olympic performances. “North Korea is giving their best performance,” he says. “It’s the first Olympics since the Kim Jong Un regime took over, so they’re trying to use it to boost morale for their people and unite them.”

According to the North Korea Freedom Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for human rights in North Korea, “Human rights in North Korea are virtually non-existent.” The group reports that “the government regulates individual lives from speech, opinion, and thought, to employment, travel, and food rations,” and says that “hundreds of thousands have fled to China and other neighboring countries to seek subsistence.”

The North Korea Freedom Coalition advocates for prisoners of conscience in North Korea, as well as those who have tried to escape. The group says that “China continues to forcibly repatriate North Koreans to a fate that includes imprisonment where they may experience torture, medical and chemical experiments, forced abortions, infanticide, starvation, and hard labor.”

Could the prospect of facing these horrific circumstances be driving some of the relentless praise for Kim Jong Un from the nation’s Olympians? As the Olympics wind down, there seems to be no end in sight for the praise directed at the nation’s “Dear Leader.” Om Yun Chol won gold in the men's 56-kilogram weightlifting. "There are no secrets," he said later. "The reason for my improvement and how I won the gold medal is [due] to the warm love of the Great Leader Kim Jong Il and the Great Comrade Kim Jong Un."

Kristin WrightKristin Wright is a columnist and contributing writer at ReligionToday.com, where she focuses on global human rights and religious freedom issues. Kristin has covered topics such as bride trafficking in North Korea, honor killings in Pakistan, the persecution of members of minority faiths in Iran, and the plight of Syrian refugees. She has visited with religious minorities in Pakistan, worked with children at risk in Mumbai's “Red Light” district, and interviewed individuals on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Kristin can be contacted via her website at kristinwright.net or email at kristin@kristinwright.net.

Publication date: August 10, 2012