This year China has increased the arrests and repatriation of North Koreans attempting to escape the poverty and repression at home. According to the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, 41 North Koreans were arrested in July and August alone, compared with 51 arrests documented for the entire year before.
Analysts attribute the rise in border arrests to efforts by China to discourage a possible flood of refugees as tougher economic sanctions imposed for Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear and missile tests increases poverty and food scarcity among ordinary North Koreans.
Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch has criticized China for violating the U.N. Refugee Convention by designating North Korean refugees as illegal “economic migrants,” and forcibly repatriating them despite the likelihood they will be imprisoned and likely subjected to inhumane treatment.
“This is condemning people to decades of forced labor, possible executions, certainly torture in every case,” said Robertson.
China has also reportedly blocked the United Nations Security Council from acting on a General Assembly recommendation to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, based on a 2014 Commission of Inquiry report documenting a network of political prison camps and systematic human rights abuses, including murder, enslavement, torture, rape, and other sexual violence.
North Korean defector Lee Tae-won is still plagued with guilt over his failed efforts to bring his wife and child to South Korea, which resulted in their forced repatriation and the likely prospect of imprisonment and possible execution in North Korea.
Lee’s wife and four-year-old son were reportedly among a group of 10 defectors that were apprehended by China soon after they crossed the North Korean border in late October.
In November he last spoke with his wife by phone while she was in a detention center in China. “As soon as my wife told me she was being repatriated, the call was cut. I thought the call was cut because the police took the phone. It was devastating,” he said.
At the time Lee made a public video message appealing to both Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump to intercede and prevent the repatriation of his family, during the time the U.S. leader was visiting the region. His plea went unanswered. Lee was later told by a friend in North Korea that his wife and child were turned over to a North Korean state security department in late November.
There is concern among human rights advocates that North Korean human rights violations and China’s complicity are being downplayed by both the U.S. and South Korea. Focusing on human rights issues could complicate Washington’s efforts to persuade Beijing to enforce tough economic sanctions, and could also undermine Seoul’s efforts to increase cooperation and dialogue with Pyongyang.
For the 16th year in a row, North Korea tops the list of 50 countries ranked for the worst persecution of Christians in the world, according to the Christian watchdog organization Open Doors USA.
At the top of the group’s top 10 countries where Christians face the most persecution is North Korea (94 points), citing Christians and Christian missionaries routinely imprisoned in labor camps.
A close second is Afghanistan, which jumped up one place since last year’s ranking. With the exception of North Korea, all the countries that cracked the top 10 are predominantly Muslim and most are in the Middle East and Africa.
“Open Doors exists to support and to advocate for persecuted Christians where ever they may be in the world,” Open Doors USA’s CEO and president, David Curry, said in announcing the list in Washington on Wednesday (Jan. 10). “We are asking that the world begin to use its power and its influence to push for justice, that we would use the list to direct us where justice is needed most in the world today.”
[Religion News Service]
China has started construction on a network of refugee camps along its 880-mile border with North Korea, quietly preparing for the mass exodus of refugees that the collapse of Kim Jong Un’s regime could potentially cause.
Detailed plans for the camps, intended to house thousands of migrants who might flee a crisis on the Korean Peninsula, emerged after internal documents from a state-run telecom giant went viral on the Chinese social media site Weibo. The telecom company appeared to be tasked with providing the camps with internet services, and the document stated that camps were planned in three villages in Changbai County and two cities in the northeastern province of Jilin, on the border, on state-owned land.
The document, which Newsweek could not independently verify, said: “Due to cross-border tensions…the [Communist] party committee and government of Changbai County has proposed setting up five refugee camps in the county.”
In addition, The New York Times reported that centers for refugees were also planned in the cities of Tumen and Hunchun, citing a local businessman, who remained anonymous.
The secret construction of the camps reflects growing concern in China about the potential for political instability—or even regime collapse—in North Korea.
The UN’s specialist on human rights in North Korea will visit South Korea and Japan from December 11-16, in the context of heightened tensions in North-East Asia.
“I will use this mission to gather information on the latest developments in the human rights situation in North Korea and identify issues of concern that should be brought to the attention of the Human Rights Council,” said Tomás Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
[North Korea] itself has not granted access to the Special Rapporteur since the mandate was created in 2004, but has recently opened up to dialogue with other UN mechanisms in areas such as the situation of women, children and people with disabilities.
Tensions in North-East Asia have increased after North Korea conducted numerous missile launches in 2017, and carried out what it said was a hydrogen bomb test in September. Resolutions by the UN General Assembly and Security Council strongly condemned these tests, and international sanctions against the DPRK were strengthened.
Mr. Quintana will spend 11-14 December in the Republic of Korea before moving on to Japan on 15-16 December. He will present his next report to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.
[UN Human Rights Council]
Ellie Cha’s father, once a respected vice-president in a North Korean mining company, lost his job. An aunt had fled to China and the family was now regarded as potentially disloyal to the Kim regime.
So in 2012, Cha’s family made the decision to leave North Korea. It was the start of an arduous three-month journey across China and Southeast Asia to reach asylum in South Korea. Much of it was spent in prison cells.
Almost no North Korean defectors cross directly from North Korea into South Korea. The border is too well-guarded and it can be hard for ordinary North Koreans to travel around within their own country. So most people, especially those like Cha’s family who live near the border, cross into China.
But it’s hard for them to stay there. Because China has a relationship with North Korea, fleeing North Koreans are often caught by Chinese authorities and sent back home to face terrible punishments, including work camps or prison.
Instead, North Koreans typically head through China into Southeast Asia to find a South Korean embassy, where they can claim asylum and apply for South Korean citizenship. Read more
The North Korean gulag system is notorious for harsh conditions and brutal treatment of its prisoners. Camp 22, also known as Hoeryong concentration camp is part of a large system of North Korean prison camps. It is an 87-square-mile penal colony located in North Hamgyong province where most of the prisoners are people accused of criticizing the government.
Inmates, most of whom are serving life sentences, face harsh and often lethal conditions. According to the testimony of a former guard from Camp 22, prisoners live in bunkhouses with 100 people per room and some 30 percent show the markings of torture and beatings — torn ears, gouged eyes and faces covered with scars.
Prisoners are forced to stand on their toes in tanks filled with water up to their noses for 24 hours, stripped and hanged upside-down while being beaten or given the infamous “pigeon torture” — where both hands are chained to a wall at a height of 2 feet, forcing them to crouch for hours at a time.
Tiny rations of watery corn porridge leave inmates on the brink of starvation, and many hunt rats, snakes and frogs for protein. Some even take the drastic measure of searching through animal dung for undigested seeds to eat. Beatings are handed out daily for offenses as simple as not bowing down in respect to the guards fast enough. Prisoners are used as practice targets during martial arts training. Guards routinely rape female inmates.
China has removed hundreds of South Koreans and closed their churches for allegedly helping North Korean defectors, as part of a clampdown on religious activities by the communist country amid soaring tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The authorities in the three provinces – Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang – had hundreds of South Korean pastors and missionaries living there. A source told The Korean Herald: “As they were sent back home, churches were closed automatically.”
The authorities’ action is also interpreted as a pre-emptive measure before China implements new regulations on religious affairs, which will take effect on February 1 of next year. Under the new directive, organizers of unapproved religious activities in China will face fines of up to £34,084 (300,000 yuan) and anybody providing a venue for “illegal religious events” will face fines of between £2,272 (20,000 yuan) and £22,722 (200,000 yuan).
The new rules, which apply to all religions ranging from Christianity to Buddhism, also allow lower-level authorities to take care of affairs relating to unsanctioned religious activities, which will bring religious groups in China under tighter scrutiny.
China, Pyongynag’s only ally, regularly sends back North Korea defectors despite them facing “systematic” torture under Kim Jong-un’s regime. A report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2016 found: “Accounts from North Korean defectors indicate individuals caught trying to defect or forcibly repatriated from China are severely punished, particularly those believed to have interacted with missionaries or engaged in religious activities.”
The totalitarian state of North Korea forces the estimated 300,000 Christians living there to hide their religious beliefs and fellowship among each other.
“In a nation where the ruling regime demands total control over the general public, anything that challenges the government’s power is seen as a threat, including religion,” Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, told Fox News. “As a result, the North Korean government does everything in its power to squash the spread of Christianity.”
This leads much of the religious population in North Korea to go underground with their worship. On the subject, North Korean defector Choi Kwanghyuk said, “North Hamgyong province is very cold. In the winter, we would dig a big hole and store kimchi there. We sometimes had services there. In the summer, we had services in the mountain or by the river. …We had only one Bible.”
In 2008, North Korean authorities caught up to Choi and arrested him. He said that he was about to be sent to one of North Korea’s brutal labor camps when he was able to break free. “I decided to escape because I thought that once they sent me to the other camp, they could eventually send me to the concentration camp or kill me,” Choi recalled. “I was traveling back and forth between China and North Korea, but they kept searching for me, and I knew it could put my friends in danger too, so I left.”
“Unfortunately, it is inexplicably easy to wind up in one of these camps. While someone can be sent to one of these camps for openly evangelizing, someone can just as easily be sent there for simply being in contact with a religious person,” said King.
For over 15 years, North Korea has ranked #1 on the Open Doors “World Watch List” as the worst place to be a Christian:
– The very act of owning a Bible is punishable by death.
– An estimated 25% of the Christian population lives in prison camps comparable to Auschwitz in Poland.
– All other Christians must keep their faith a secret.
– Many Christian parents even choose to keep their faith a secret from their children, for fear that they might accidentally expose their faith to their neighbors, teachers or government officials.
Nevertheless, reports indicate that the church is growing, in spite of the persecution.