|TOP|In the last two weeks, reports from defectors have offered the world a glimpse of the oppressive and fearful conditions inside North Korea.
The Associated Press (AP) on Tuesday released an article about the experience of a former North Korean prisoner. Kim Chol-soo, the pseudonym adopted by the prisoner to protect relatives in North Korea, said that he witnessed the death of many fellow prisoners due to excessive work and starvation, including a former defector beaten to death for contacting Christians in China.
“Most people died of malnutrition and its complications,” said Kim, according to AP, noting that prisoners only receive 21 ounces of food per day – a starvation ration. The ex-inmate is a survivor of the prison camp at Yodok, about 70 miles northwest of Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea.
Another eyewitness, a 30-year-old North Korean defector, told the L.A. Times that in 1996, five middle-aged men accused of running an illegal church were forced to lie on the ground as a steam roller crushed them.
In addition, reports from 19-year-old Choi Hwa (also an adopted name to protect relatives still remaining in North Korea) - who is currently living in Seoul, South Korea – has added evidence that the regime, founded by Kim Il Sung and currently led by his son, Kim Jong II, is violently opposed to Christianity.
At the age of 12, Choi witnessed her father and her sister executed because her sister accidentally dropped a Bible with some laundry while she was washing by the river. The Los Angeles Times wrote that their legs had apparently been broken and they “had to be dragged out like dolls before they were tied to poles and shot.”
Despite the obstacles posed by the anti-religion government and painful memories of her family’s execution, Choi became a Christian through the help of those in China.
The defector explained that hungry North Koreans often risk their lives to slip across the border to China where Christians would give a lecture on Christianity and a bowl of rice. The L.A. Times reported that in rural villages along the Tumen River, small churches – some inconspicuous and others attracting visitors with red neon crosses – is often the only source of help for North Koreans.
"The North Koreans don't have any other place to go, so they come here," said Kim Young Geol, an ethnic Korean who manages a makeshift church from a house that looks out onto the mountains of North Korea to LA Times. "They need rice, clothes, medicine, and there is nobody else to support them."
|AD|David Hawk, a leading human rights investigator who recently finished the in-depth study of North Korea for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said that the commission found the practice of religion is increasing inside North Korea.
Missionaries along the China-North Korea border are using creative methods to send Bibles into North Korea, such as hiding them in rice bags or floating them over the border with balloons.
“Once you read the Bible, you stop believing in Kim Il Sung,” said Choi.
Furthermore, Choi said that after studying the Scripture with missionaries, she realized that in Thank you, Father Kim II Sung, a daily recitation required of children, “Kim Il Sung just replaced God’s name with his own.” North Koreans are forced to regard founder Kim Il Sung and his son, current leader Kim Jong II, as gods.
North Korea – a country that has thoroughly surpassed its communist counterparts, with the possible exception of Albania, in eradicating organized religion – once had a powerful Christian political force according to the L.A. Times. Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea, had as high as a 30 percent Christian population before the 1950-1953 Korean war and was nicknamed the “Jerusalem of the East.”
Today, three churches remain in the country, all located in Pyongyang and are mostly for show and serve mainly only foreign diplomats and relief workers, according to reports. Local churches were reportedly destroyed or converted to other uses.
"They are sensitive to their image abroad," said Kim Sang Hun, a human rights investigator in Seoul to the L.A. Times. "But their underlying nature has not changed."
The North Korean government still claims that it does not violate human rights despite widespread reports of torture, public executions and other abuses. The U.S. Department of State reported earlier this year that about 150,000 to 200,000 people are believed to be held in its prison camps for political reasons. Moreover, many of the 40 defectors interviewed for the recent report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom spoke of graphic, public executions in the mid-1990s of people practicing religion, and there are unconfirmed reports of 12 executions on Oct. 25 in Onsong.
Christian Today Correspondent