North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il
More than 1 million North Koreans are locked up in concentration camps in conditions reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s death camps, with guards reportedly stomping on the necks of babies born to prisoners and “scientists” performing gruesome experiments on living victims, a Christian ministry is reporting.
The report comes from the Netherlands-based Open Doors International, which has been monitoring persecuted Christians since the 1950s.
Officials there told BosNewsLife, a Hungarian service that focuses on news of persecuted religious believers, North Korea has built eight punishment camps for political prisoners and another 30 camps for other offenders subjected to forced labor.
In an earlier WND report, a rare escapee from North Korea said dictator Kim Jong-il and his late father, Kim Il Sung, are portrayed throughout the country as gods.
The new report from Open Doors, launched in 1955 by Dutch missionary Brother Andrew, author of “God’s Smuggler,” cited “Brother Simon,” who is the ministry’s North Korea director. He was not identified further because of security concerns.
“It’s possible that the number of prisoners are well over 1 million,” he said. “The camps are complete villages.”
Over the years, accurate reports of persecution of Christians and others in North Korea have been difficult to obtain, simply because so few people survive to tell any stories. Numerous reports previously have estimated the number of Christians in concentration camps for no more than believing in Jesus Christ has ranged well into the tens of thousands.
Now the report by BosNewsLife Senior Correspondent Eric Leijenaar provides the higher estimates from Open Doors. “Brother Simon” declined to say how Open Doors conducted its investigation, citing concerns about the safety of those involved in the work.
“Many lives could be lost,” he said.
There had been earlier reports from defectors about the largest detention center, Camp 22, a site in the mountain town of Haengyong, where survivors have told stories of thousands of deaths each year and guards stomping on the necks of babies born to prisoners.
Witnesses also have been quoted in the British media about their experiences “watching entire families being put in glass chambers and gassed.” They die in agony while “scientists” take notes, the defectors have reported, according to the BosNewsLife report.
There also are stories, the report said, of experiments on living victims and sudden death.
The Observer newspaper has reported on testimony from Soon Ok-lee, who was imprisoned for seven years, survived and escaped.
“An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners,” she reported. “One of the guards handed me a basket full of soaked cabbage, told me not to eat it but to give it to the 50 women. I gave them out and heard a scream from those who had eaten them. They were all screaming and vomiting blood. All who ate the cabbage leaves started violently vomiting blood and screaming with pain. It was hell. In less than 20 minutes they were quite dead.”
Political opponents and critics of the government are among the victims, but many of them also are believed to be Christians, based on the communist society’s philosophy of “total devotion” to the governmental leader.
“Brother Simon, who has contacts with tens of thousands of Christians in North Korea through several networks, is convinced that despite the apparent dangers, at least 200,000 North Koreans are Christians ‘although that number may be even as high as half a million.’ One in four Christians in North Korea are believed to be in camps ‘where people usually do not survive,’ he said,” according to the news report.
Brother Simon added that in North Korea, is it “strictly forbidden” to be a Christian. Anyone who has a Bible, he said, “could be sentenced to a punishment camp along with his whole family.”
Refugees who flee North Korea and then are returned by authorities, often from China, face years in jail. But if “authorities find out the refugee has contact with a Christian he or she may face torture and even execution,” Brother Simon said.
Open Doors, which provides aid to refugees, too, said there also is a very aggressive effort to prevent people from escaping.
“It’s very difficult to cross the river near the border. At the North Korean site [authorities built] dangerous pits with bamboo arrows,” he said. “There are also high fences with barbed wire, while China has placed cameras and even promised rewards for those reporting refugees to authorities.”
“If there was one moment when North Korea needs prayer, it’s now,” he said.
Open Doors said it is running a three-year, round-the-clock prayer action for North Korea. It began Jan. 1, 2005, and about 3,000 Christians in the Netherlands and Belgium are participating.
Mr. Kim sings “Brightly beams, Our Father’s mercy.”
Mr. Kim, who recorded himself singing a traditional Christian hymn for Voice of the Martyrs, said Kim Jong-il’s eccentricities go far beyond his apparent hatred of Christians. He has expensive tastes, and his unusual activities have become international legend.
Reuters reported, “No one enjoys luxury goods more than paramount leader Kim Jong-il, who boasts the country’s finest wine cellar with space for 10,000 bottles. … His annual purchases of Hennessy cognac reportedly total to $700,000, while the average North Korean earns the rough estimate equivalent of $900 per year.”
The North Korean government has announced Kim Jong-il was born on “the sacred mountain of our nation” and is characterized by “impatience and extemporaneous behavior.”
He is reported to be a movie fanatic and once ordered North Korean agents to abduct South Korean movie director Shin Sang Ok and his former wife, actress Che Eun Hiu. He kept them for eight years, making propaganda films, until they escaped during an international conference.
Another source described him this way: “Kim Jong-il is often said to be stark raving bonkers, but this is a misconception. He is eccentric, certainly, and his government is extremely secretive and brutal to dissidents, but experts say Kim is bright, clear-headed, politically astute and as sane as any leader with unchecked power. He drives trendy Mazdas and prefers Hennessey cognac.”
Reports say at one point he rounded up 80 high-ranking officials, including several relatives and his brother-in-law, and had them “purged.”
Mr. Kim said that while growing up, he had no real knowledge of religion and had not even heard about Christianity. He had seen filmed representations of Christmas parties but had no idea they were related to Jesus.
“We were taught that religion is the opium of the people and that pastors were spies of South Korea, trying to bring imperialism to North Korea. I was taught that religion was bad and school text books reinforced this idea, explaining that people from other countries built the hospitals, schools and did all kinds of good deeds for North Korea in order to spy.
“Because of this, children are brainwashed and taught that Christianity is bad. North Koreans have hatred for Americans because that is what they are taught through their entire education. I was educated like this, too,” he said.
Son Jong Hoon and his brother, Son Jong Nam, who has been condemned to execution in North Korea for being a Christian (Voice of the Martyrs photo)
An international campaign was launched by the Voice of the Martyrs to generate worldwide pressure on North Korean officials who ordered a man executed for being a Christian.
Son Jong Hoon told a recent news conference in Washington, D.C., his life’s goal now is to save his brother, Son Jong Nam, a former North Korean Army officer turned underground evangelist.
“I pray to God for my brother’s safety,” he said, describing the horrors of the basement jail cell where Son Jong Nam has been held, beaten and tortured since his most recent arrest.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom repeatedly has recommended that the U.S. Department of State list North Korea as among its “countries of particular concern” for its “egregious and systematic human rights violations” including policies that disallow any Christian faith.
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