Play raises awareness of defector integration issues in South Korea

“Do you think it’s funny when friends make fun of me because I’m from North Korea?”

This is amongst the lines of Jin Hee, a high school girl being bullied by classmates for her North Korean origins in the play “Memories of Chagang Province,” which takes a close look at the experiences of North Korean defectors in South Korea. The part was played by Park Joo Yang, an actress who herself defected from the North, and the play was sponsored by the Ministry of Unification.

It is an original play relating the stories of defectors, including a construction site worker, a housekeeper, and a high school girl, following their efforts to make a new life for themselves in South Korea. Three actors who defected from North Korea elected to participate in a training camp prior to the performance, as they harbored concerns regarding their lack of acting experience. But their efforts and rehearsals have paid off, with emotional performances conveying the joys and sorrows of defector life.

A South Korean member of the audience said, “Before watching this play, I didn’t think much about defectors. Now I am heartbroken to hear that so many of them are leading difficult lives, like the characters in the play. … I hope the people of South Korea can be more sympathetic towards people of different backgrounds,”

Unlike other plays about North Korea, which often center on stories about the prison camp system or the grim process of defection, this play sought to focus on the lives of defectors as they settle down.

[Daily NK]

Trump’s national security adviser vows to tackle North Korea nuclear threat

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser says North Korea’s nuclear program would be given a high priority under the new administration, a South Korean official who held talks with him said on Saturday.

Michael Flynn, one of Trump’s closest advisers, also said he would work to strengthen the U.S. alliance with South Korea, calling the relationship “vital,” the South’s deputy presidential national security adviser Cho Tae-yong was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

Flynn is a retired Army lieutenant general and a military intelligence veteran of three decades who has championed Trump’s promises to take a more aggressive approach to terrorism.

U.S. President Barack Obama has been criticized by Congressional Republicans that his policy of “strategic patience” was a failure and that he must make full use of sanctions authorities given to him by Congress.

[Reuters]

Might Trump Administration decrease focus on North Korean human rights?

On Wednesday Tomás Ojea Quintana, the new United Nations Special Rapporteur for North Korean human rights, met with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in Seoul to consult on plans to again bring a resolution before the United Nations Security Council next month to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry issued a report comparing ongoing atrocities in North Korea to those committed by Nazi Germany, and documenting a network of political prisons in the country incarcerating nearly 120,000 men, women and children, as well as widespread and systematic abuses that include torture, enslavement, rape and murder.

The recent election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president has raised questions over whether his administration will prioritize support for human rights abroad.  Trump has said he would be willing to meet informally with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without any pre-conditions.

Rights advocates are concerned the President-elect will be willing to overlook the North’s human rights violations and drop calls for further U.N. rebukes in exchange for stronger support from China and Russia to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

[VoA]

North Korea already moving flood victims into newly constructed homes

North Korea has begun moving residents into newly built homes in a region recovering from recent floods that have been described as the worst since World War II.

The Russian embassy quoted Cho In Chol, the vice chairman of the Rason City People’s Committee, who said construction on a cluster of new homes was completed on Nov. 10 and residents were being moved in by Tuesday.

A Western diplomat who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity also said victims of the August and September floods were being assigned to their new homes. The diplomat said he has visited sites in the city of Hoeryong, Onsong and Musan Counties and witnessed the construction on 10,000 homes nearing completion, according to the report.

Patrick Elliott, a shelter adviser with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the recovery work has been taking place at an incredibly rapid rate, and at a pace that would usually take 3 years in a developing country.

[UPI]

China censors website searches mocking Kim Jong Un after North Korean complaints

Searches for the Chinese words “Jin San Pang” (“Kim Fatty the Third”) on the search engine Baidu and microblogging platform Weibo returned no results this week, after North Korean officials reportedly conveyed their displeasure in a meeting with their Chinese counterparts.

The nickname pokes fun at Kim’s girth and his status as the third generation of the Kim family to rule the world’s only hereditary communist dynasty.

It is especially popular among young, irreverent Chinese who tend to look down on their country’s would-be ally.

[AP]

North Korea the world’s worst religious persecutor

Many governments persecute people of religious faith. However, one nation stands out: North Korea.

Before World War II missionaries were active throughout the peninsula and more than a fifth of the population was Christian.

Today, North Korea (DPRK) ostentatiously treats anyone of faith, but especially Christians, as hostile. Open Doors recently rated the DPRK number one for the 14th year in a row on the group’s “World Watch List.” Explained Open Doors: “Christianity is not only seen as ‘opium of the people’ as is normal for all communist states; it is also seen as deeply Western and despicable.

“Christians try to hide their faith as far as possible to avoid arrest and being sent to a labor camp. Thus, being Christian has to be a well-protected secret, even within families, and most parents refrain from introducing their children to the Christian faith in order to make sure that nothing slips their tongue when they are asked.”

Last year the British group Aid to the Church in Need published a persecution report which figured that some 50,000 Christians may currently be in the DPRK’s penal camps. The organization warned that the Kim Jong-un regime appeared to be tightening controls over potential dissent, including a vigorous crackdown on Christians. Aid reported that “Since 1953, at least 200,000 Christians have gone missing. If caught by the regime, unauthorized Christians face arrest torture or in some cases public execution.”

A special UN Commission of Inquiry pointed to the “almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Believers “are prohibited from practicing their religion” and punished severely if disobedient. The ruling regime “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly severe threat.” Read more

Religion in North Korea

A new report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) offers a detailed look at religious persecution in North Korea. Entitled “Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea,” the study paints a tragic picture. Persecution has been official state policy since the DPRK’s creation and believers “suffer significantly because of the anti-revolutionary and imperialist labels attached to them by the country’s leadership.”

All people of faith are categorized as “hostile” (the other two broad classes or songbun groups are “core” and “wavering”). It is notably better to be Shaman than Christian, and slightly worse to be Catholic than Protestant.

Both Shamanism and Buddhism are seen as part of Korean culture and believed to pose less of a challenge to the communist system. However, those who practice Buddhism, noted CSW, still risk “imprisonment, forced labor, poor living and sanitary conditions, abuse, violence and torture.”

Christianity suffers most grievously. Since 1997, there has been “intense persecution of increasing unofficial religious activities.” A former North Korean security agent told CSW that Christianity “is so persecuted because basically, it is related to the United States” and is believed to provide an opportunity for espionage.

Most Christians worship secretly. If discovered, they are “taken to political camps (kwanliso); crimes against them in these camps include extra-judicial killing, extermination, enslavement/forced labor, forcible transfer of population, arbitrary imprisonment, torture, persecution, enforced disappearance, rape and sexual violence and other inhuman acts.” CSW reports documented cases of believers being “hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot.”

Still, according to CSW, there is good news: “Since the 2000s unofficial Christian religious activities have been increasing, partly because of the influence of defectors who entered China and were then returned to North Korea, bringing the Christian faith they had been exposed to in China.” It is ironic that communist China, which continues to persecute religious believers, but not nearly to the degree of the DPRK, has become a source of evangelism for the North.

The South Korean Christian Federation claims the existence of 500 house churches, though by their nature they are extremely difficult to count.

Over the long-term, the growth of Christianity itself may prove to be the ultimate remedy, just as the People’s Republic of China abandoned Maoist madness and now is struggling to accommodate the presence of more Christians than Communist Party members.

[The World Post]

Canadian advocates for North Korean rights and refugees

A defector from North Korea is scheduled to talk about her life under the brutal regime during a visit to Queen’s University in Toronto.

“It is definitely going to be an eye-opener,” said Danny Yeo, president of the Queen’s chapter of HanVoice, a Toronto-based non-profit organization that advocates for North Korean rights and refugees through political and grassroots advocacy in an attempt to raise more awareness among Canadian decision-makers.

Han” means “one,” Yeo explained. A fourth-year politics student, he came to Canada from South Korea when he was five. He founded the Queen’s chapter of HanVoice last January. “I have been interested in this cause ever since I was 16,” Yeo said.

There are also chapters at York University, Western University and the University of Toronto. The chapters support the main body in its efforts to help change legislation to make it easier for North Korean refugees to settle in Canada. While the local chapters work to raise awareness about the issue in their own communities, they also take part in HanVoice‘s Pioneer Projects program, in which young North Korean defectors are invited to share their stories about life under the oppressive regime.

This year’s speaker is Audrey Park. Part of a family of seven, Park grew up in North Korea during a famine in the 1990s partly orchestrated by the government, often having only one meal a day. When Park was 10, she and her mother fled to China, bribing a border guard to allow them to cross. They lived in China for seven years before being deported. Twice more they escaped before finally reaching the safety of South Korea in 2006.

Park’s speech will put a human face to the misery of living in the country and the need to help the refugees settle in Canada, Yeo said. Park is currently working as an intern for Yonah Martin, the first Canadian of Korean descent to serve in the Senate.

[Kingston Whig-Standard]

Over 75 percent of North Korean Christians do not survive persecution

Human rights groups are reporting on new grim statistics from North Korea and its treatment of religious minorities, including Christians, revealing that more than 75 percent of those subjected to torture, imprisonment, and other punishments do not survive.

UPI reported on statistics from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, a South Korean nonprofit organization, which are based on the testimonies of defectors, identifying over 65,000 cases of religious persecution.

International Christian Concern, Open Doors USA, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide are some of the persecution watchdog groups that have documented the horrific treatment of minorities in North Korea.

CSW’s report released in September found close to 99 percent of 11,370 defectors in the study confirmed that there is no religious freedom under the government of Kim Jong-un. It also noted that the North Korean government tortures, mutilates, and kills Christians. The report added that some of the documented incidents against believers include “being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges, and trampled underfoot.”

The interviews also reveal less than 23 percent of victims of religious persecution survive their punishment, according to defectors’ testimonies.

“A policy of guilt by association applies, meaning that the relatives of Christians are also detained regardless of whether they share the Christian belief. Even North Koreans who have escaped to China, and who are or become Christians, are often repatriated and subsequently imprisoned in a political prison camp,” CSW noted.

As the watchdog group also explained, religious belief is seen as a major threat to North Korea’s leadership, with Christians often accused of being imperialists seeking to undermine the rule of the ‘supreme leader,’ as Kim Jong-un is known.

[The Christian Post]

China building new military base near North Korea border

China is building on its military presence at its border with North Korea, a source in North Korea tells Radio Free Asia. A large-scale military facility in the Chinese city of Longjing, in Jilin Province, has been under development. Local residents are being relocated because of the military, according to the RFA report.

A Korean-Chinese source in Longjing said the government’s measures are “unprecedented” in the area close to the border.

Beijing is also doing its part to keep out defectors, and is constructing more barbed-wire fences, according to the report.

“The Chinese leadership seems to preparing for the collapse of the North Korean regime,” the source said.

Barbed wire fencing along the border in Yanbian prefecture have been reinforced as well, another source in the area told RFA.

“Fencing that was washed away due to the flooding of the Tumen River and old rusted barbed wire have all been replaced with new barbed wire,” the source said.

The barrier not only keeps out refugees but would also cause trade to diminish.

[UPI]