Thursday, December 5, 2002

North Korea: Christians suffer as political prisoners.

Date: Thursday 5 December 2002
Subj: North Korea: Christians suffer as political prisoners.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator

Hwang Jang-yop was once a spokesman for late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il. He has lived under the protection of South Korean intelligence since becoming the most senior defector from the North in 1997. AFP quotes Hwang as saying, "The suffering and pain of the North Korean people under the current dictatorial regime are much more severe and tragic than what we experienced during the 36 year colonial rule by the Japanese or what we went through during the Korean War." (Link 1)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report entitled "The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People's Republic of China," November 2002. (Link 2) The HRW report makes no mention of religious freedom or religious persecution. Presumably HRW assumes that all
readers understand that religious belief and expression is a serious political crime in North Korea.

The HRW report, particularly sections II. "The Migrant's Story: Contours of Human Rights Abuse," and III. "A Well-founded Fear: Punishment and Labor Camps in North Korea," is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the suffering of Christians in North Korea. It is estimated that some 100,000 Christians are political prisoners in this nation that was once a land of revival, whose capital, Pyongyang, was once known as "the Jerusalem of the East."


The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report covers all areas of experience, from escaped prisoners, defecting guards, and starving economic migrants. Through testimonies, it exposes the intolerable oppression and suffering in North Korea, the horrific, inhumane conditions in prison camps, the dangers involved in escape (such as the trafficking of women), the risks involved in assisting escapees (such as imprisonment), and the consequences for escapees who are caught and returned (imprisonment, torture and death). The report also looks at the responsibilities of China and the International community and offers recommendations.

When North Korean refugee Soon-Ok Lee testified before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on 24 January 2002, she made it very clear that Christians were regarded as "political criminals". Soon-Ok Lee said that hundreds of the 6,000 inmates in the prison camp in which she was held were there because they were Christians. She said that guards would tell the Christians they could save their lives and be freed if they would refuse to worship God and instead worship Kim Il Sung, the deceased founder of the Marxist regime. She also said that Christians were regularly singled out for the most extreme treatment and toughest punishments. It was the love, grace and steadfast faith of North Korean Christian prisoners in the midst of the most extreme suffering that drew Soon-Ok Lee to Jesus.

(Soon-Ok Lee's prison memoir:
Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman )

Page numbers are from the printer-friendly version (pdf)

* From the testimony of a former prison guard:
(page 22)

"They investigated whether the repatriated people had any relationship with South Korea. If a person met South Koreans or reporters or wrote articles, or attended church or escaped after committing a crime in North Korea, they would be secretly killed, without even God knowing."

* From the testimony of a refugee: (page 24)

"When we (HRW) asked if he had learned anything (about China or South Korea) from broadcasts, he denied watching foreign programs: 'Even watching Chinese television can be punished if discovered. If a person is found listening to South Korean broadcasting, he could be punished in a political prison or executed.' He recalled that such an execution had happened to a worker in his prefecture."

* From the testimony of a former prison guard in a political prison:

(pages 24,25)

"The basic diet was soy sauce, a little fat, cornmeal, some salt water, and perhaps some kimchee (fermented cabbage). Men and women are separated, sometimes with 300 to 400 people sleeping crowded into one room, unable to stretch their legs.

"Those who attempted to escape were held in a separate place. They were often hung on the wall all day long. Sometimes their hands were tied behind their back and they were hung on the wall for three to seven days.

"If it was a political prisoner, his hands would be broken right after he was sent to the prison of the National Security Office. They would then be interrogated. During this, they would not be able to move at all. I witnessed these types of atrocities quite often."

* From the testimony of a former prisoner:
(page 25)

"It was a savage's life, even though people there still had the minds of human beings. I cannot tell vividly enough how it was to be beaten. When our family moved there (prison), we were surrounded by one hundred people and beaten. The police led people to beat us -- newcomers must be broken in spirit this way. There are also professional 'beaters' at the town hall. They bring people there to be beaten who disobeyed the rules. Officials beat so harshly that many of those people became disabled, or their legs were paralysed, or they died.

"In these places, there are no human rights at all for women. What they call sexual harassment in South Korea is nothing. What was going on was beyond description. Everything is exposed; it was nothing to have sex openly. It may be better when a man is married, but as for women, they can't protect themselves in that situation."

* From the testimony of a former imprisoned official:
(page 27)

"The 606 camp was designated for officials charged with economic and political crimes. Conditions were harsh and inmates were treated much like to political prisoners, with no visitors allowed. He gave the following chilling account:

'During my stay there, 1,200 people were sent to the facility and I saw only seven people who left without physical injury or harm. Many people died because of an epidemic, and many others were shot to death. The facility generally released people when they believed that the person would no longer survive. Many of the detainees suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis or other diseases.

'There were about three hundred people in the camp, with a group of thirty in each room. About one hundred people were sent each month, and about ten people were dead every day. If someone didn't receive one meal per day, he would be so weak from starvation that he could not move properly. Since there were no coffins, they put the bodies on a plank and carried them to a hill and buried them.

'I cannot describe the situation properly. Can you imagine expecting the person next to you to die, and when the person dies, taking the corpse's clothing off and wearing it? Since the roof leaks on rainy days, the mattress is always wet. Lice are crawling all over the corpses, but the inmates use the blankets of dead people as soon as they die.'"

* From the testimony of a woman who escaped North Korea
, became a Christian in China, and then returned to North Korea to find her daughter in order to bring her out. According to HRW she "broke down several times as she related the ordeal": (page 10)

"I knew that after leaving North Korea and living in China, every step was dangerous. I was almost captured several times while staying at the hotel, being assisted by the church. I came to realize that God or some divine power existed after experiencing life [in China], even though it was not a very long period. So without that belief, I could not have gone back. When I crossed (the Tuman River), the water came up to my neck! I don't swim very well, and I was scared -- the water was black from flooding. Miraculously, someone came up in front of me and helped me across."

- Elizabeth Kendal


1) "North Korean defector savages Kim Jong Il regime" AFP
4 December 2002

2) Human Rights Watch
"The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People's Republic of China,"
November 2002, Vol.14, No. 8 (C)

Wednesday, December 4, 2002


WEA Religious Liberty Prayer List - No. 198 - Wed 04 Dec 2002

By Elizabeth Kendal

The fragile peace in Ivory Coast is under great stress. Whilst the conflict is essentially political, it divides the nation along ethnic and religious lines, with Christians generally supporting the government (with a Christian President) and Muslims generally supporting the rebels. So the conflict, which started as a failed political coup, has thus polarised the nation and has the potential to degenerate further into a horrific religious war of national and even regional proportions.

The rebels' demands are a stumbling block to the peace talks. The rebels (the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast [MPCI]) want 'a new political order' and are insisting on President Gbagbo's resignation. On top of this, government forces reported on 27 November that two new groups of rebels, assisted by Liberian militants, had broken the truce by advancing, attacking military positions and capturing the key western towns of Danane and Man. Government forces responded and re-took the towns after two days of heavy fighting. The new rebel groups, the Movement for Justice and Peace and the Ivorian Popular Movement for the Great West, want to merge with the main rebel group, the MPCI, which presently controls the predominantly Muslim north of Ivory Coast. This would greatly strengthen the rebel position.

Ivory Coast has secular government and full religious freedom. Church growth over the past decade has been phenomenal, particularly amongst evangelicals.

To relieve financial stress, Ivory Coast, which is 31.8% Christian and 38.6% Muslim (Operation World figures), joined the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in June 2001, to access the limitless funds of the Islamic Development Bank. Non-Muslim African nations (including many that are majority Christian) are being similarly tempted, and many have already succumbed. The Saudis and Libya's Colonel Gadhafi are the main drivers of this strategy of quiet absorption, which some observers believe is aimed at creating a united Islamic Africa. Militant and hardline Islamist groups demand more than absorption. They demand a Muslim government and ultimately Sharia (Islamic) law. There is no doubt these groups have become increasingly active in recent years, and those who desire a united Islamic Africa are keen to fund and employ their services. This is a spiritual battle.


* the Church in Ivory Coast will be focused on Jesus and committed
to HIS ways, in spite of fear, anxiety and anger over the

* Christians stranded in rebel territory or in frontline regions
will be kept safe; and for provision for those who have been
displaced and made homeless through a flight south as the nation
has polarised.

* Christian witness will be bold, gracious and profoundly effective
at this time of heightened religious awareness. Isaiah 55:10,11

* the conflict will not cut Ivory Coast's Muslims off from a
continuing witness to the gospel and that Satan's plan to crush
mission will not succeed.

* God will govern the Peace Talks, giving wisdom to President
Laurent Gbagbo, and a commitment to peace to the rebels.

"And everyone will know that the Lord does not need weapons to
rescue his people. It is his battle, not ours." David to Goliath - 1
Samuel 17:47