Christians under dark reign of Kim Jong Il

( [email protected] ) Mar 25, 2004 09:29 AM EST

Rome (AsiaNews) – During the Beijing summit meetings regarding the North Korean nuclear program requests from many exiled North Koreans were ignored. They had asked to discuss the serious violations human rights and religious freedom occurring in their homeland.

The situation experienced by Christians in North Korea is emblematic of the brutal human rights conditions found in the country. News that manages to leak out of the country speaks of violent persecutions and tight government control of religious freedom and worship.

Such news comes form Christians and political dissidents who have managed to escape abroad, as well as from tourists, government employees, foreign journalists and Christian delegations, whose mobility is limited and mostly restricted to the capital of Pyongyang and immediate surrounding areas.

According to the testimony of a North Korean refugee reported by Forum 18 News Service, some elderly Christians were killed in a small town on the Chinese border. The motive for their killings, which occurred in the year 2000, was because they had refused to renounce their faith. Former North Korean citizens and prisoners, like Soon-Ok Lee, have said that Christians in reeducation camps and jails are treated worse than other prisoners.

Due to the reign of terror which has existed in North Korean, persons living in nearby regions have only discovered after ten years that they shared the same faith. Human Rights Without Frontiers says that in order to escape from police repression Christians meet secretly in groups of ten, often with members of the same family.

In recent years Pyongyang has grown worried about “spiritual pollution” of North Koreans and has attempted to persecute such “corrupt” citizens living abroad. In China, for example, where there are 100,000-300,000 North Korean refugees, Pyongyang has obtained support from Beijing to hunt the “fugitives” down.

A Japanese human rights activist has revealed that the North Korean government built a fake church in China (in Yanji, Jilin province), just 20 km from the border. Chinese police arrested many North Korean refugees there and had them sent back to North Korea. During long interrogations, North Korean government authorities ask the repatriated refugees what kind of contact they've had with South Korean missionaries working in China, if they read the Bible or attend church services. Those they who admit to contact with missionaries or any other religious affiliations and activities are imprisoned and condemned to death. The church’s Protestant pastor, as some reports indicate, is being blackmailed by Pyongyang which holds his family hostage.

The situation is not much better in North Korea. In the capital there are only 2 Protestant churches in addition to one priestless Catholic church and a new Orthodox center of worship. Many foreigners who have attended religious services do not believe that the celebrations and faithful are “fake” or dramatized by the government, but all noted that sermons were filled with many political references. Others have said that government propaganda is found to exist within these churches and are not in constant use.

There are no exact figures on the number of faithful and places of worship existing in North Korea. In July 2002, at the request of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the North Korean government released brief and evasive information on the status of Christians living in the country. In terms of Catholic numbers authorities said there were 800 faithful in the country with 2 “centers of public worship” and one sanctuary.

The governments said there were around 12,000 Protestants in North Korea with 2 churches, “500 centers of worship for families” and 20 pastors. In Jan. 2004 an exponent of Baptist Church-run Cornerstone Ministries told the US Commission on Religious Freedom that there were 100,000 Protestant North Koreans.

According to certain estimates there are about 100,000 Christians out of a total population of 24 million in North Korea, of which 12,000 are Protestants and 4000 Catholics. It is said that since communists took over the government in 1953, some 300,000 Christians have disappeared and there are no longer priests or

nuns in the country, all likely killed during times of persecution. (MR)