Defector floats 1000 digital Bibles into North Korea

A North Korean defector used 350 helium balloons to send 1,000 flash drives loaded with portions of the Bible across the border from the South Korean side, according to reports.

Jung Kwang-il, founder of a group called No Chain, went to an area of South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province close to the border to drop the balloons inside the North Korean territory, according to UPI. The flash drives were donated by college and high school students in the United States.

Fifty-four-year-old Jung, who was sentenced to three years in a North Korean prison camp for a crime he says did not commit, is based out of South Korea. Using helium balloons, human smugglers and helicopter drones, he often sends USB drives, SD cards, and other devices carrying Hollywood movies, South Korean television shows and testimonials from North Korean defectors across North Korea’s borders, according to The Atlantic.

“In recent memory, we’ve had the Jasmine Revolution [in Tunisia], and the Arab Spring,” Jung told the magazine last year. “How come none of that is happening in North Korea? The reason is simple: Because the country’s such a closed-off country, information-wise. People don’t know that the situation they’re in is truly a terrible one. … We want to break that ignorance.”

According to Open Doors, anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are suffering in labor camps in North Korea. “In North Korea, even children are aware of the risks of possessing a Bible. … People who pick up a Bible know their choice is very risky, they could probably end up being executed,” added the Rev. Eric Foley, president of Voice of the Martyrs Korea.

Last year, a report by the U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide revealed that the following: “Documented incidents against Christians include being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges and trampled underfoot. A policy of guilt by association applies, meaning that the relatives of Christians are also detained regardless of whether they share the Christian belief.”

[Christian Post]

North Korean labor camp experience

North Korea has been known to imprison its citizens for so-called crimes that include anything from speaking badly about the regime and its leader, Kim Jong Un, to distributing South Korean media or stealing rice.

Jun Heo was just a teenager when he was sent to one of North Korea’s prison camps. He told Fox News he would be beaten black and blue and tortured constantly. Cries and screams were a constant backdrop and prisoners were forced to perform hard labor for 14 hours straight.

A former camp guard, identified as Ahn Myong-chol, echoed the reports of brutal beatings, saying he and other guards were encouraged to view the prisoners as sub-human, and strike them repeatedly as punishment, according to the report.

Prisoners were assigned to intensive labor such as coal mining and cement making, and they often died due to work-related accidents. An unconfirmed report also indicated a nuclear test site was being constructed in a prison, the State Department said.

A report released by the Transnational Justice Working Group in Seoul in July explained that public executions carried out on “criminals” in schoolyards and fish markets in an attempt to instill an “atmosphere of fear” among the citizens.

[Fox News]

North Korean prisoners ‘walking skeletons’ in Kim Jong Un’s labor camps

The leaders of North Korea’s horrific prison camps encourage guards to beat prisoners to death and induce starvation, a U.S. State Department fact sheet revealed.

The report highlighted details gathered from six prison camps, some of which housed as many as 50,000 prisoners, mostly detained for political offenses. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights prepared the information published Friday detailing a prisoners’ daily struggle to even obtain a decent meal at the camps.

“Induced starvation is common among prisoners, who are driven to catch and eat rodents, frogs and snakes,” the report said.

A former camp guard, identified as Ahn Myong-chol, said inmates appeared like “walking skeletons, ‘dwarfs,’ and ‘cripples’ in rags,” and about 1,500 to 2,000 of them would die of malnutrition yearly.

[Fox News]

Criticizing Kim Jong Un leads to life in a prison camp

A North Korean defector explains that people in the North Asian country feel they have no other choice but to show allegiance to Kim Jong Un because of the consequences that would follow if they don’t — namely being sentenced to hard labor in the notorious prison camps.

“[In the camps] you are forced to labor and you live a life no better than a dog or a pig,” said the defector, who spoke with Sky News but did not reveal his identity as his daughter is still inside the isolated Pacific country. “It is better to die.”

He noted that in private, people are critical of their dictator, but do not dare to make those views public. “If you criticize Kim Jong Un you will go to a prison camp and not come back,” the man said. “In North Korean society you can do everything but criticize the Kim family. If you are caught, even if you have money, you won’t be able to survive. It’s a frightening system.”

“We don’t follow the system because we like it, we are only following because we are scared of it.”

“Essentially, North Korea is the most oppressive regime in the world; it is certainly the most closed, isolated country in the world. It’s a regime that stands accused by the U.N.’s own Commission of Inquiry of crimes against humanity,” Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, told The Christian Post in an interview in March.

“Those crimes against humanity include the incarceration of 100,000 to 200,000 prisoners, who are jailed because of political crimes, and are subjected to the worst forms of torture, slave labor, denial of medical care, sexual violence, and in some instances execution,” Rogers added.

[Christian Post]

Public executions in North Korea

An NGO researching atrocities under the Kim John Un regime has confirmed that public executions still happen in North Korea and how these are intended to instill fear of the North Korean government, and to be witnessed by as many people as possible.

The Transitional Justice Working Group‘s executive director Hubert Youngwhan Lee told Sky News: “There are certain types of locations that are frequently used for the public killings. The most commonly used locations are river banks, under bridges, markets, or even on school grounds, or public stadiums.”

Asked to clarify whether school grounds were being used for public executions, he replied: “Yes, school grounds, because North Korea uses this as a tool for instilling public fear of being punished by their government.”

He said public killings continue to be carried out under Mr Kim’s leadership, with testimony as recently as 2015, three years into his rule.

His colleague, researcher Sehyek Oh, who is from North Korea, has carried out 375 interviews so far with fellow defectors, including former officials, as they gather evidence ultimately intended to be used in court, to bring those responsible to justice.

[Sky News]

North Korean defector reveals why enthusiastic crowds for Kim Jong Un

A North Korean defector has revealed why many people still seem to follow Kim Jong Un despite the country being in a terrible economic state and their leader possibly taking them to nuclear war.

The man, who didn’t want to be identified to protect his daughter who still lives in the country, said North Koreans are forced to show loyalty or they will be punished. He added the crowds were manufactured and the people turned out because they feared the consequences.

“These civilians, if the government tells them to come, … they’re forced to come, they don’t have the freedom not to,’ he told Sky News after being shown footage of thousands of people at a pro-regime rally in capital Pyongyang. He added: ‘People are scared. On the surface they look thankful, but none of it is genuine.’

He said criticism of the regime could result in being taken to a prison camp or even being publicly executed.

Venues for executions included river banks, stadiums and school property. The defector said: ‘Yes, school grounds, because North Korea uses this as a tool for instilling public fear of being punished by their government.’

[Metro UK]

Kim Jong-un ‘no longer seen as God’, as more Koreans turn to God

The North Korean regime continues to persecute anyone practicing religion within its borders, according to a new US State Department study, although reports from within the country suggest that more people are turning to religion.

The US State Department annual report on global religious freedoms again singled out North Korea. “The government continued to deal harshly with those who engaged in almost any religious practices through executions, torture, beatings and arrests”, the report states. … An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions”, it adds.

Those claims were backed up by a North Korean defector who is now a member of the Seoul-based Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea. “Officially sanctioned persecution of people for religious reasons is still there and, I would say, even stronger than before”, the defector told The Telegraph.

But subtle changes are slowly becoming visible, said the defector, who declined to be named as he is active in assisting underground churches operating in the North. “In the past, the people were told to worship the Kim family as their god, but many North Koreans no longer respect Kim Jong-un”, he said. “That means they are looking for something else to sustain their faith. In some places, that has led to the emergence of shamens, but the Christian church is also growing and deepening its roots there”, he said.

“Even though people know they could be sent to prison – or worse – they are still choosing to worship, and that means that more cracks are appearing in the regime and the system”, he added.

[The Telegraph]

North Korea releases Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim

Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, North Korea’s longest-held western prisoner in decades, was “released on sick bail” Wednesday by the country’s top court for “humanitarian” reasons after two and a half years in detention, state-run news agency KCNA said.

Lim’s son, James Lim, received word over the weekend that a plane carrying senior Canadian officials, a medical doctor, and a letter to North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un was dispatched to Pyongyang “at the last minute,” according to family spokeswoman Lisa Pak. The plane landed in the North Korean capital Monday.

Lim was serving a life sentence of hard labor after being convicted of crimes against the state in December 2015. The 62-year-old’s health has deteriorated while in North Korean custody and the pastor has experienced “dramatic” weight loss, Pak said.

His family has not been allowed to see him during his imprisonment, but have been able to send him letters and blood pressure medication via the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which often serves as an intermediary for prisoners from nations with no formal diplomatic ties to North Korea.

Lim detained in February 2015 while on a humanitarian mission in Rajin, North Korea, a family spokesperson said at the time. He was acting on behalf of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church, which he had led since 1986. According to his family, Lim has made more than 100 trips to North Korea since 1997, and his humanitarian efforts have included the founding by his church of a nursery, orphanage, and nursing home in the northeastern city of Rajin.

In a January 2016 interview with CNN in Pyongyang — his first conversation with foreign media — the Canadian said he was the sole prisoner in a labor camp, digging holes for eight hours a day, six days a week. At the time, he said he received regular medical care and three meals per day.

[CNN]

Defectors and Google Earth map decades of horror in North Korea

A Seoul-based non-governmental organization has used Google Earth technology to enable North Korean defectors to “build a digital map of crimes against humanity in North Korea.”

The Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) released a new report, the result of two years of research and interviews with 375 North Korean defectors, that identifies what it says are grave sites, murder locations and government offices that “may be used for future investigation and prosecution of crimes against humanity.”

Hangings, public executions, cremation sites, and remote burial sites are ostensibly identified, said to be close in proximity to known detention facilities and labor camps. “The majority of burial and killing sites identified were in North Hamgyong Province, which borders China,” the report notes, acknowledging that 221 of the 375 people interviewed came from this province.

North Korean defectors identified 47 “body sites.” The researchers used this term because, they said, “While the majority of these sites are burial sites, some of those identified by interviewees were sites where the bodies were not buried but rather abandoned, dumped, hidden without burial, or were storage sites for bodies yet to be buried or cremated.”

Defectors would describe atrocities they had knowledge of, allowing the researchers to note the locations. They also categorized the source’s relationship to the location or the event, indicating if they were physically present, heard or saw directly, heard straight from a victim or heard only as a rumor. The data collected spans decades – not just Kim Jong Un’s current bloody reign, but that of his father Kim Jong Il, the former Supreme Leader, as well.

In the findings, researchers noted that the project is not endeavoring to “establish individual criminal responsibility of given actors, but rather to expose in a transparent manner the extent of the violations committed and their systematic nature. …It is our intention,” states the report, “to provide our data to the relevant legal authorities at a time when we expect the necessary criminal investigation to take place.”

[Fox News]

North Korean defector repair boy

Kim Hak-min, 30, was born in coal country in the North Korean province of North Hamgyong, which borders China. His father worked in the mines as an engineer.

At the age of 7, Kim became obsessed with electric gadgets. “I just wanted to disassemble everything,” he says. At 13, he started fixing neighbors’ watches and electrical appliances, earning the nickname “Repair Boy.” After his father died of liver cancer in 2003, Kim started making a living fixing people’s broken appliances. He got to know how televisions work.

“To prevent North Koreans from watching Chinese channels that air South Korean dramas, state security officials fix televisions so they only broadcast state-run channels. I was the kid in the town who could unlock that code and let people watch South Korean dramas. I watched them myself.”

He was arrested three times for watching forbidden dramas. The first two times he avoided punishment because he was underage. The third time he got caught, in early 2009, he was 22. “Watching a single drama can earn you a five-year sentence. I was busted for having watched hundreds! I was certain I would be sent to a far-flung prison camp, where I would perish.”

Soon after his arrest, beatings and sleep deprivation began. “They [interrogators] made you sit absolutely rigid for 15 hours straight,” he recalls. “If you move an inch, a punch follows.”

To his surprise, he was released after two months. “People in the town pleaded with the authorities to release me, for which I am forever grateful.” They were the neighbors and friends whose electric gadgets Kim had fixed in the past – often for free.

On a freezing day in January 2011, he crossed the frozen Yalu River to China with a girlfriend. After making another crossing into Thailand, a route arranged by defection brokers, the couple landed in Seoul in March 2011. Kim is now majoring at electronic engineering at Sogang University in Mapo District, western Seoul.

[JoongAng Ilbo]