It was just a year ago that President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un met to begin discussions on a plan that the U.S. hopes eventually will result in the denuclearization of the rogue regime.
When the two met again in February, the goal didn’t seem to move any closer to reality.
Now White House national security adviser John Bolton says a third meeting is possible, but the ball is in Pyongyang’s court.
So far, Bolton said, North Korea has kept its pledges not to conduct nuclear or intercontinental range ballistic missile tests.
But even if middle ground somehow is found on the issue of nuclear weapons, the huge issue of North Korea’s persecution of Christians doesn’t appear to be part of the discussion yet.
And it needs to, according to a woman who escaped from the closed communist peninsula.
It was Ji Hyeona who spoke at the Taiwan International Religious Freedom Forum just days ago regarding her life in, and flight from, the torture of North Korea.
Her comments were translated by Hyun Song and posted online at the Family Research Council.
She now lives in South Korea as a “devout Christian,” something for which North Korea’s punishment sometimes is death.
For 18 years, she said, North Korea has ranked as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians.
There, she explained, “The very idea of freedom and human rights is foreign. I never heard of or used those words while in North Korea, and they do not fit the North Korean society. In North Korea, faith means being loyal to the Kim family dictatorship.”
She discovered Christianity after her mother went to China to find food, and brought back a small Bible.
She diligently read it every day.
Then, “One day I was called to the local Ministry of State Security … and there, I was tortured and beaten for reasons unknown. I was then asked, did I come into contact with any South Korean intelligence agents? I said I didn’t know what you’re talking about, and that’s when the agent placed my Bible on his desk. He told me to explain what this is all about.”
She continued, “At that moment, I felt my heart stop. Because in North Korea, if you believe in any other God or gods besides the Kim Il-sung and the Kim family dictators, you would be sent to a political prison camp or executed.”
She said the only way to survive was to lie, and say she found it, and just hadn’t had time to turn it in.
“I found out later that my best friend actually turned in the Bible and reported me to the authorities,” she said.
Having faith in North Korea, she said, “was an impossible thing to do.”
She escaped four times, she explained, but was returned the first three times by Chinese authorities.
“I was sent to Prison Camp #11 – Labor Reform Prison Camp. And there, I was forced to do slave-like labor, and I saw so many people die from simple illnesses like diarrhea, starvation and over-work. The only thing the living could do for the dead in the prison camp was close the eyes of the people who passed away,” she recalled.
During one of her attempts to flee she was pregnant, and when she was caught and returned, she was forced to undergo an abortion.
“Where they placed me was not a hospital bed, but it was a desk. And a fearful-looking doctor forcibly pried open my legs and inserted forceps and started killing my baby in my womb by cutting up and shredding my baby,” she said. “This was all done without any anesthesia used on me and the physical pain was so hard to endure.”
She cried out, “God, do you see this? How come I have to take this painful violent choice? Were my prayers not enough for you?”
“And I heard the voice of God say back to me, ‘Does this hurt? Does this hurt a lot? Then now you understand what I went through when I sent my son to the world.’ This is when I knew the heart of God.”
She said she rededicated herself to escape, to “tell the world about the Christian persecution of the North Korean regime and the human rights violations going on in the country and to spread the Good News of Jesus in North Korea.”
So she escaped yet again, this time successfully, to South Korea.
She said she now sends leaflets and Christian materials into North Korea via balloons.
“My message is that human rights is the right for people to enjoy the freedom of God-given faith,” she said.
The solution isn’t complicated, but it isn’t easy, either, she said.
The International Religious Freedom Act, she noted, calls for diplomatic and economic punishment for nations that are “of particular concern” because of persecution, and that needs to be used.
Then there needs to be an option for North Koreans who are able to reach China to avoid being returned, she said, adding that China does not recognize them as refugees, and it should, as part of the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Finally, she said, nations need to step up and protect those who are facing persecution.
“So, as Moses said to the Pharaoh, we cry out to the North Korean government, ‘Let my people go.'”