“Where is the international outrage over North Korea?” asks pastor and human rights activist Douglas Riggs.
Riggs, who pastors the Morning Star Testimony Church in Syracuse, New York, says he’s astounded that one of the world’s major persecutors continues to do so almost “under the radar.”
“Where is the international outcry from the international community for the most oppressed and persecuted people in the world who live in North Korea?” Riggs asks. “No nation is planning a military strike against the tyrannical rule of the North Korea.”
Riggs, who has worked for human rights in cooperation with several Christian groups, says the number of Christians jailed in North Korea is in the hundreds of thousands. He adds the number of deaths is enormous.
“There are reports of literally thousands who have been murdered in brutal ways. Yes, the regime murders its political prisoners, but Christians are targeted because killing a Christian there is considered more important,” Riggs says.
“Why no outcry? Why no liberators? Why is there apparently no interest?” Riggs demands. “The silence is incredible.”
International Christian Concern’s East Asia analyst Ryan Morgan says it’s not for lack of interest, but because it’s simply hard to keep up the interest.
“North Korea is such a ‘slow burning’ issue,” Morgan said. “It has been going on for a very long time, and after a while of reporting the same news about North Korea over and over again, the public loses interest.”
Morgan added that Christian persecution is difficult to make known because North Korea is almost impenetrable from the outside.
“It is almost impossible to get information about the underground church and persecution out of North Korea. Even if you do get information, you can’t publicize it without risking the lives of those who provided it,” Morgan said. “So between an issue that has gone on for decades with little change and the lack of substantial new information coming out of the country, it’s very difficult to keep up interest from the general public.”
In fact, Morgan believes the international community may have already resigned any hope on helping North Korean Christians.
“I think the international community has in many ways given up on the human rights travesty that is North Korea. In my mind what we see in North Korea is the slow-burning equivalent to the Holocaust or Stalin’s Collectivization schemes (which caused between 4 to 10 million people to starve to death),” Morgan said. “It is a human tragedy on a massive scale that the international community seems to have little interest in solving, or at least in solving it any time soon.”
But even politicians and the business community have given up on North Korea, Morgan insisted the human rights community has not.
“I would say that that all of us in the Christian human rights community are very aware and concerned about what’s happening,” Morgan said.
But China’s support for North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, Morgan explained, makes any change difficult.
“As long as China is willing to prop up the regime it may be very, very hard to incentivize or encourage change,” Morgan said.
“North Korea works hand-in-glove with China,” Riggs agreed. “They’re essentially a proxy state of China.”
Yet, as WND reported in July 2012, some hopeful signs of loosening restrictions are taking place under Kim Jong-Un.
Bans have been lifted on Western foods such as pizza and French fries, and restrictions on the number of cell phones have been loosened, for example, according to Ryan Morgan, an analyst with International Christian Concern Asia.
“The new ruler has even been uncharacteristically shown on state television, smiling and visiting an amusement park,” Morgan said.
“However, whatever secular benefits may have trickled down to residents of the isolated communist nation, there is no evidence of any improvement in the condition of the persecuted church there,” he said. “From everything we’ve seen conditions haven’t improved in the slightest since the takeover by Kim Jung-Un. Yes, he might be a little more media savvy, but in my opinion he is just as ruthless if not more so than his father and grandfather.”
As WND reported, possession of a Bible in North Korea is potentially a capital offense. The penalty for owning a Bible can send the offender, and three generations of his or her family, to prison camps, where an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people are held.
“As far as Christians being shot on sight if found with a Bible, I think that’s more than a bit of a stretch,” Morgan said, however. “Yes, we’ve had reports in the past of executions for those distributing Bibles, but I think you are much more likely to end up being transported to a prison camp then outright shot.
“One of the most shocking reports we’ve heard recently is from Patrick Klein, the president from Vision Beyond Borders, who returned from a visit to North Korea this summer,” Morgan added. “He reported that on at least one occasion school children were duped into spying on their parents. Teachers described a Bible to children and told them to go home and look for the little book and then bring it back to their teachers, without telling their parents.
“The children who found Bibles brought them to school and happily turned them in, thinking they had done a good job, only to find that their parents had been shipped off to prison camp by the time the school day ended. The children were subsequently taken into state custody,” Morgan said.
“It’s also tragic that the North Korean regime decided to cancel the visit by U.S. Special Envoy Robert King on behalf of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae. His health is deteriorating rapidly and we have no idea now when or if he will be released from his preposterous 15-year sentence to hard labor,” Morgan said.
Open Doors, USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra says North Koreans are regularly recruited to spy on and persecute Christians.
“Once again North Korea tops the Open Doors World Watch List,” Dykstra said. “Kim Jong-Un may allow Mickey Mouse to perform in his country and experiment with economic reforms, but Christians are still considered enemies of the state. North Korea’s heart has not changed.”
Dykstra says a North Korean defector had been recruited to betray his family and eventually hung himself from the guilt.
“What went through his mind before he went to the shower room? Nobody knows exactly. But earlier the North Korean defector had confessed to investigators in South Korea’s Hanawon center that his country had pressured him to carry out an espionage mission,” Dykstra said.
“‘I have been commanded to track down missionaries and Christian organizations involved in ministry among North Korean refugees. They are keeping my family hostage. I have to obey,'” Dykstra said, quoting the defector.
“There was no way out for him. His mission ended in Seoul, and he could not bear the pressure of being responsible for the punishments of his family. He went to the shower room. He untied his shoes, took out the laces and hung himself,” Dykstra said. “He was already dead when the guards found him, Joongangilbo, a Korean newspaper, reported.
“North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un had sacrificed one of his dispensable pawns in an apparent attack on his Christian enemies in South Korea,” Dykstra said.
To illustrate the reality of the harsh life of North Korean refugees and North Korean Christians, Dykstra shares the story of a North Korean Christian refugee who fled to China for freedom and found more slavery.
“She had no money. She had no food. She had no future,” Dykstra related. “When a Chinese-Korean lady travelling through North Korea told Hye (not her real name) that she could earn a lot of money in China, it seemed an offer she could not refuse. Hye and a few other ladies crossed the cold border river in the middle of the night.
“At the other side, a few, strong men waited for them. When the doors of the van slammed behind them, Hye knew something was terribly wrong. Like 50,000 other North Korean women currently hiding in China, she had been tricked by human traffickers,” Dykstra said.
“The people in the van hardly spoke. There was no way of telling where the car would take Hye and the others. They were brought to a building – some kind of office – and locked up until one by one they were sold to Chinese men,” Dykstra said.
Hye now recalls she cried every day for the first three years she was in China.
“My so-called husband beat me terribly. He also made me pregnant, and we had a child together. At one point I could not take the beatings anymore and I ran off. I am hiding from him now. A neighbor, who is also an illegal North Korean refugee lady, brings me my son every now and then so I can spend some time with him,” Hye said through Open Doors.
“Soon after Hye left her husband, she was introduced to one of Open Doors’ secret groups for refugee women in China and became a Christian. Co-worker Sun-Hi encouraged her to go back to her husband and try to make up with him,” Dykstra said.
“I have seen so many miracles in the marriages of Chinese husbands and North Korean wives. God can do that, but sometimes they need to endure a little while. I realize that it is hard to say that, but time and time again God has proven He is able to restore these relationships and make them much better for the couple and for their children,” Sun-Hi said in a statement to Open Doors.
Hye has nonetheless refused to go back, saying, “The beatings were too hard. It was horrible. Now my husband has already purchased a new wife.”
Dykstra adds that it’s no secret that North Korean Christians pay a high price for their faith.
“The cost of faith can be high. A number of women under Open Doors’ care have been captured in the past few years and were repatriated to North Korea. There they are forced to do hard labor in Nazi-like concentration camps,” Dykstra said. “Their lives mean nothing to the guards. Open Doors takes care of some of the Chinese husbands and children who lost their wives and mothers.”
“We have seen how God has used bad events for good. Some of the men have come to living faith in God, while they still hated Him when their wives were still with them. Of course we pray that these ladies may soon be released and can escape to China once again,” Sun Hi said through Open Doors. “I just hope that they will hold fast to their faith. If only I had been able to teach them longer. We have to put our faith in God. Time and time again I learn what we teach these women: that Jesus is enough.”