JAY SEO WRITES – Everyone knows that the first amendment of the US constitution guarantees American citizens the freedom of religion, but that this right is anything but universal. In too many counties, innocent people are being arrested, abused or even killed because of their faith. Rather than ending in the nineteenth century, substantial persecution of Christians is continuously occurring today in different countries. In particular, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must be closely watched for Christian persecution.
According to the advocacy group Open Doors USA, which publishes the World Watch List report on the persecution of Christians globally, the DPRK has held a high rank on the list for 17 consecutive years and the regime’s persecution of Christians has been statistically increasing.
“There haven’t been any changes made to the religious persecution,” said Hea-Woo, a Christian refugee from North Korea. “Rather the persecution of Christians is greater now than before.”
Under communist dictatorship, the three generations of the Kim family have been and continue to be worshiped as godly figures. The Kim family in North Korea holds ultimate power, and its leaders are touted by the regime as both benevolent and omniscient, which leads North Koreans to the conclusion that anything related to three generations of Kims is good.
Kim Jong-un, the current supreme leader of the DPRK, eliminates any obstacles he perceives as a challenge to his authority. Therefore, North Korea remains a secular state, and people are mostly either atheist or agnostic.
Interestingly, Pyongyang once had the biggest population of Christians out of all Korean cities and boasted about a hundred churches. It was once even known as the “Jerusalem of the East.” However, in the late 1940s, after the Korean peninsula was divided at the 38th parallel, authorities in North Korea began to crack down on Christian activities in the country.
Based on this bizarre history, Christians in North Korea are either persecuted or incarcerated in labor camps also known as kwanliso. However, some Christians avoid the labor camps by keeping their faith a secret from even their own family members.
Today, Open Doors USA estimates somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians are in the kwanliso. Christians who are sent to the labor camps experience different forms of punishing violence on a daily basis. Examples include verbal harassment, physical beatings, torture, isolation, sexual assault, imprisonment, slavery, mass starvation and general persecution.
While the violation of human rights continues to this day, North Korea’s government denies the existence of the labor camps. However, according to a 2014 UN special commission report, satellite images have shown the existence of the camps and their continued operations. Even now, North Koreans are banned from celebrating Christmas. Instead, people are forced to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong-un’s grandmother, who was born on the happy coincidence of Christmas Eve in 1919.
Some evangelists who visit North Korea in an effort to save Christians instead fail to save themselves as well. Hyeon Soo Lim, a Canadian pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga (Canada), had frequently visited North Korea to support people by importing and exporting food, feeding many people, and buying the largest hotel. The profit from the business was used as a charity fund. However, in December 2015, Lim was arrested and received a life sentence without parole in labor camp. The conviction was that Lim was using religion to destroy the system of North Korea.
With this communist system, North Korea remains a dangerous place for Christians to practice their faith due to the country’s ongoing human rights violations. One can only pray for some lessening of the terror.