Tuesday, February 12, 2013

RLPB 197. North Korea: exposing the terrors of the gulag

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 197 | Wed 13 Feb 2013


By Elizabeth Kendal

In North Korea loyalty to and worship of the ruling Kim family is mandatory, as is acquiescence to the doctrine of juche (self-reliance). The official website of North Korea (DPRK) states: 'The Juche idea is based on the philosophical principle that man is the master of everything and decides everything. It is the man-centred world outlook and also a political philosophy to materialise the independence of the popular masses . . .' Consequently, being a Christian is a serious political crime in North Korea. Some 200,000 'criminals' are incarcerated in the secretive State's gulag, including tens of thousands of Christians. Possession of a Bible is punishable by public execution (see here for a reported case). To eliminate disloyal family lines, the regime's policy dictates that three generations of any dissident be incarcerated in concentration labour camps where starvation and gross cruelty ensure the death rate is kept high. It is almost beyond belief that this horrific reality could have endured for more than 60 years. Refugee survivors such as Soon Ok Lee have testified that Christian prisoners are treated even more harshly than other political prisoners (Soon Ok Lee's testimony.) As survivors' testimonies become available, the terrors of the North Korean gulag are exposed.

On Tuesday 19 February refugee survivors Shin Dong-Hyuk and Kang Chol-Hwan will headline the 5th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. The event is organised by a coalition of some 20 non-government organisations (NGOs) headed by UN Watch. We must pray that their testimonies are widely reported and effective in raising awareness of this horror. When Kang addressed the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010, he described conditions in the camps as 'similar to that of Hitler's Auschwitz'.

Shin Dong-Hyuk's testimony is unique as he is the only known surviving escapee from a North Korean 'total control zone' camp. Three generations of Shin's family had been incarcerated after the Korean War as punishment for his grandfather's and uncle's defections. Shin was born and raised in Camp 14. When he was about 22 Shin met a new prisoner, Park, who had been on the outside and even in China. Until then, Shin had been totally unaware that an alternative reality even existed. One day the starving pair decided to escape. Park died in the attempt, but Shin eventually found his way to China and subsequently to South Korea. His testimony of life in Camp 14 is absolutely shocking. He says perpetual starvation drives prisoners to hunt rats and insects for food. He recalls the public execution of his mother and brother, along with the torture meted out to him when he was 13. The transcript and video of Shin's testimony, 'Three Generations of Punishment', is available on the CBS News and Geneva Summit websites.

When three generations of Kang Chol-hwan's family were incarcerated in 1977, he was only 9. Kang survived 10 years in Camp 15 at Yodok. His testimony is remarkably similar to Shin's, except that Kang was released in 1987 after his 'disloyal' grandparents died. Kang subsequently fled to China after being alerted that security police were coming to arrest him for listening to foreign radio broadcasts. Today Kang lives in South Korea, where he works as a journalist and human rights advocate. He became a Christian in South Korea, and in 2005, when US President GW Bush read his biography -- The Aquariums of Pyongyang -- and invited him to Washington, Kang saw the incredible exposure that meeting gave his cause as an answer to his prayers. Eight years later Kang is still praying and raising awareness at every opportunity.

North Korea has the fourth largest army in the world and is the most militarised nation on the planet. Military personnel are privileged -- they get food and heating! The regime does not care about anyone else -- they can all starve! North Korea wants re-unification, but only on its terms -- the regime desires the day when the North will devour the South. The only thing keeping North Korea from swallowing up South Korea is the US, which is why North Korea wants American forces out of South Korea.  On Tuesday 12 February North Korea conducted another nuclear test, the dual purpose of which is deterrence and maintenance. 'Without this threat,' writes Sohn Gwang Joo, Director of Daily NK, 'there would be no other way for Pyongyang to obtain Washington's attention. A North Korea without nuclear weapons is just a regime burdened by economic woes, inflicting human rights abuses on its people, suffering defections and battling with bottom-up marketisation. Only with nuclear weapons are they able to maintain their regime, hidden away from the world. This is how they keep their people in chains: through military tension.'


* bless Shin and Kang and use their testimonies to awaken multitudes to the reality of North Korea; may international fascination with the entertaining yet criminal Kims be replaced with a commitment to ending the appalling suffering of multitudes.  

* draw his Church into prayer for North Korea -- and then answer her prayer, giving a spirit of  wisdom to those making decisions and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate (see  Isaiah 28:5,6).

* infiltrate North Korea in a new and surprising way, bringing peace and liberty to his 'Chosun' (ethnic Korean) people.  'The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof . . . Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.' (Psalm 24:1a,9 ESV)

* use Shin and Kang's testimonies to soften the hearts of South Koreans that they might have the love and sacrificial generosity required to heal North Korea after its more than 60 years of captivity.


It is a serious political crime to be a Christian in North Korea. Three generations of a criminal's family are incarcerated in the gulag where starvation and gross cruelty ensure the death rate remains high. Possession of a Bible is a capital offence. It is almost unbelievable that this horrific reality could have lasted more than 60 years. Today, up to 200,000 Koreans are incarcerated, including tens of thousands of Christians. As testimonies of refugees become known, the terrors of the gulag are exposed. On 19 February Shin Dong-Hyuk and Kang Chol-Hwan, two refugees who have survived the gulag, will headline the fifth annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. Please pray God will use these testimonies and bring peace and liberty to his 'Chosun' (ethnic Korean) people.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
"Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today"
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)