What it means to be a Christian in North Korea

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.

[Open Doors]

A ‘life of hell’ for Christians in North Korea

North Korean Choi Kwanghyuk is one of the lucky ones. The 55-year-old managed to escape from the work camp where he was sent after being targeted and persecuted by the government for his Christian faith.

Despite having to hide his faith in plain sight while living in North Hamgyong province, Choi was still compelled to bring religion to others when he started an underground church. “If that information had leaked, we could have faced the death penalty.”

North Korea is ranked the most oppressive place for Christians in the world and has had that ignominious status for years, according to Open Doors USA.

“[Choi’s] statements describing oppression, as well as his report of imprisonment for owning a Bible or practicing faith, align with everything we know about North Korea,” Open Doors President David Curry told Fox News. “Rated the worst place for the persecution of Christians, North Korea treats Christians horrendously and registers them as ‘enemies of the state’ for their faith.”

In 2008, North Korean authorities caught up to Choi and arrested him. He was held in prison by the state security department where he says he was interrogated about his faith. “I was tortured there,” he said.     Read more

[Fox News]

North Korean defector: ‘Life in America is heaven’

After Choi Kwanghyuk escaped from his native North Korea to neighboring China, he heard how the general image of North Korean defectors was not positive among those in South Korea.

“So, I applied for asylum in the U.S.,” he told Fox News.

Choi was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2013. He first lived in Dallas before eventually moving to Los Angeles where he now lives.

Choi said that as a result of injuries he received while being tortured, he is unable to work but has committed himself to telling the world about the human rights abuses in his native land.

“First of all, every human must have the right to freedom,” he said. “There is no freedom in North Korea. By law, they have the freedom of religion and the freedom of the press, but the reality is very different.”

And despite the hardships he may face, Choi said that life in the U.S. is a vast improvement. “There is an enormous difference between my life in North Korea and my life in the U.S,” he said. “The life in North Korea is hell … life in America is heaven.”

[Fox News]

Latest Treasury sanctions on North Korea

The Treasury Department on Thursday issued new sanctions on seven individuals and three entities connected to the North Korean regime in conjunction with a new report from the State Department on human rights abuses within the hermit kingdom.

The sanctions were issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and they freeze any property or interest in property within U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibit any transactions by U.S. citizens with any of the sanctioned individuals or groups. Among the sanctioned entities are the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea.

 “North Korea is run by a brutal regime that continues to engage in serious human rights abuses. We are especially concerned with the North Korean military, which operates as secret police, punishing all forms of dissent. Further, the military operates outside of North Korea to hunt down asylum seekers, and brutally detains and forcibly returns North Korean citizens,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“Today’s sanctions target the North Korean military and regime officials engaged in flagrant abuses of human rights. We also are targeting North Korean financial facilitators who attempt to keep the regime afloat with foreign currency earned through forced labor operations.”

[CNBC]

North Korean resettlement in South Korea over the past 20 years

In the decades following the Korean War, there were a handful of high-profile defections from North to South Korea and vice versa, but the total number of people who voluntarily resettled from one state to the other was very small.

During the late 1990s, as North Korea experienced famine and economic collapse, a growing number of North Koreans fled to China to secure their livelihoods, with some eventually making it to the South. The number of North Koreans arriving in the South reached a peak in 2009.

After 2011, the number of North Koreans arriving in South Korea dropped by about 50% from this peak. Some cite tightened border security as the primary reason for this downturn, although relatively improved economic conditions in North Korea and an anti-defection propaganda campaign within North Korea may also be contributing factors.

The majority of North Koreans who have resettled in the South have been women, who currently account for about 70% of the North Korean population in South Korea. The lower participation rate of women in North Korea’s formal labor force may account for some of this gender imbalance.

Click following link for charts: North Korean Resettlement in South Korea

The correlation of North Korean political prisons and North Korean defectors

There is evidence to suggest that the presence of political prison camps in certain North Korean provinces may have some sort of influence on the number of defections.

Provinces more to the south that have more defections than some provinces in the north also happen to host prison camps within their borders. And other northern provinces with smaller defection rates happen to have no political prison camps at all.

When comparing a map of North Korea’s provinces with the locations of known North Korean Kwalliso or political prison camps (both still active and recently closed), one finds that half of the reported camps – camps 16, 22, and 25, near Hwasong, Hoeryong, and Chongjin, respectively are located in North Hamgyong province .

North Hamgyong province is the region of origin for more than 60% of all North Korean defectors.

South Pyongan province also hosts another two political prisoner camps – camps 14 and 18, known as Gaechon and Bukchang, respectively. Camp 15, known as Yodok is located to the east of the border area with South Hamgyong province, though the camp itself is technically located in South Hamgyong province proper.

 [Source: Shaquille James, Co-Founder of the North Korea Network]          Read more

Other North Korean defectors voluntarily return to the North?

The South Korean Unification Ministry said that 26 North Korean defectors have gone back to North Korea out of the total who have come to South Korea, which stood at 31,093 as of the end of September.

The Unification Ministry is looking into the whereabouts of a 30-something North Korean defector couple, which a local cable TV channel reported on Sunday could not be reached after they left for China in mid-October.

“As they fell out of touch after leaving for China, authorities are investigating the case,” Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

In mid-July, another North Korean female defector who had gone to China appeared in a North Korean propaganda video, stating she returned to North Korea after suffering “physically and mentally in the capitalist South”. She insisted that she was lured to South Korea by the fallacy that she could make a lot of money. The woman had become somewhat popular in South Korea after appearing on cable TV show programs featuring North Korean defectors.

Baik, the Unification Ministry spokesman said, “The government will make efforts to help North Korean defectors better settle here through cooperation with private agencies and local communities … and will also do its part to create an atmosphere to embrace North Korean refugees as members of our society.”

[The Korea Herald]

Assassinating Kim Jong-un could go so wrong

There have been rumors and discussions about the assassination of Kim Jong-un in the West. But, as logical as it may seem to some warmongers, assassinating the North Korean leader is not a good idea.

The first reason why assassinating Kim Jong-un is not a good idea is that it would be a very difficult task to achieve. North Korea, at over 120,000 square kilometres, with mountains making up nearly 80 percent of its surface, is one of the most heavily fortified countries in the world, with …its tapestry of tunnels and between 6,000 to 8,000 subterranean facilities, all making it very easy for Kim to hide. If an attempt was made, and failed, the full nuclear anger of Kim Jong-un could be expected in response.

The second reason is this practice is illegal under US laws.

The third reason is that Kim Jong-un’s death by no means guarantees solving the problem. The more likely scenario is that power would pass directly to one of his children in accordance with a pre-agreed succession plan. Either his sister, Kim Yo-jong , or his wife, Ri Sol-ju will act as regent until his elected heir is old enough to take control of the communist de-facto monarchy. … The success of this type of regency and succession would depend on support from the military.

An alternate possibility is the country descending into absolute chaos after such an assassination. Recent examples of the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi show that the removal of such strongmen can bring dangerous fragmentation and enduring conflict that destabilize regions for decades ahead.

The final and most likely possibility is that the “head of the snake” keeps biting for a few minutes after it is decapitated … the North Korean military start firing everything they have.

[Excerpts of an Opinion by Alexander Gillespie, professor of international law at the University of Waikato, New Zealand]

Popular online cartoons portraying North Korean defectors

With a few strokes on a computer tablet, the wide-eyed look of Yong-chul takes shape. In his late 20s, the cartoon character is the face of a young North Korean defector, who has recently arrived in South Korea and is bewildered by his new home.

Yong-chul is the alter ego of Choi Seong-guk, “but better looking and more expressive,” says Choi. Choi himself arrived in Seoul seven years ago, surviving a journey through four countries that took months to complete. He’s been able to turn his creative skills to his advantage, not only to support himself, but also to convey what being a defector from North Korea means. (In the North, he was an animator at Pyongyang’s leading SEK studio when he was arrested and jailed for selling DVDs of banned South Korean movies.)

He escaped north through China, following a route of more than 8,000 kilometers to end up living on the outskirts of Seoul, only 80 kilometers from the heavily fortified and impassable North Korean border.

Today, Choi communicates his impressions of life in the North — and the challenges of defecting to the South — in a series of popular online cartoons. Some are in the dark style of graphic novels, showing the risks of getting shot while crossing the border, being tortured if caught and dragged off to your execution.

“You will often be victimized by louder and stronger people,” he writes in one of his cartoons, above a drawing of a young man being bullied by a bigger character who looks a lot like North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Aside from chronicling the experiences of the newcomers, Choi also helps those who want to leave North Korea. He says he passes along contacts, advice and sometimes money to three to five defectors a month who are determined to make the dicey journey.

[CBC]

Leaving North Korea for South Korea

The defector’s trip usually starts with bribes to officials and payments to brokers who help them leave North Korea. They take their chances crossing rivers and mountains by foot. There’s even an underground railway — a network of safe houses through China — designed to dodge authorities. The lucky ones make it to Laos, Myanmar or Thailand and on to Seoul with the help of NGOs, Christian groups and South Korean diplomats abroad.

The government in the South offers help once they arrive. There is a modest allowance of about $1,000 a month as well as grants of up to $20,000 for things like a down payment on a house.

Defectors go through several months of socialization at government centers, and often they need classes to reach South Korean levels of education. NGOs like the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights offer tutoring in English, math and other skills needed in a competitive market economy.

But no matter how much they feel at home in the South, most still worry about the people they left behind, especially when there are threats of “total destruction” flying between Pyongyang and Washington every day and news of missile tests and underground nuclear explosions.

[CBC]