North Korea is the world’s most repressive nation. Those who escape speak of terrible human rights abuses, starvation, and even cannibalism. Starving children have been filmed eating grains of rice they pick up from the mud. Both children and adults show the effects of malnutrition. Anyone discovered to be a Christian can be arrested, imprisoned in a concentration camp, and even summarily executed. Yet his 24 million people call Kim Jong Il the ‘Dear Leader’.
Ahn Myong Chol was a prison guard for eight years at Hoeryong-Area Camp No. 22 in North Korea. In an NBC TV interview, he said, ‘They trained me not to treat the prisoners as human beings. I was instructed not to speak and not to smile. If a prisoner tried to escape or fight me, then I was allowed to kill him. If thereís a record of killing any escapee, the guard is entitled to study in the college. Because of that, some guards kill innocent people. Beating and killing is an everyday affair. I saw numerous prisoners killed, especially by beating. Over there [in an area outside the camp] is where there are the most densely buried bodies… Most North Koreans know there are prisons like this, thatís why they are loyal to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.’
Kwon Hyuk was the chief of management at Camp 22. In a BBC This World documentary he said, ‘I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber. At the time I felt that they thoroughly deserved such a death. Because all of us were led to believe that all the bad things that were happening to North Korea were their fault.’ There are an estimated 200,000 people in North Korea’s concentration camps. But for the rest of the population, apart from the elite, life is also very hard. Most struggle for survival on poverty-level wages. They face a barrage of propaganda from the State-run TV, radio and press monopoly which constantly calls for greater devotion to the ‘Dear Leader’, Kim Jong Il, whose qualities and exploits are claimed to be supernatural. They work for perpetual ‘revolutionary struggle’ rather than real economic improvement. This means accepting the privations of a society that supports an army of 1.2 million active soldiers and 8.3 million reservists, and supposedly rejects dependence on other nations for trade or humanitarian aid during times of famine.
Christians are the special target of intense persecution because they are seen as enemies of the State.
North Korea’s founder and ‘Eternal President’ Kim Il Sung (also known as the ‘Great Leader’) developed an ideology of continuous revolutionary struggle called Juche (‘Joo-chay’) which is more religious than political in nature. It demands total devotion to Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il. Their images are prominently displayed in every home: before them, people must bow and confess their failures. In Pyongyang, the capital, a huge bronze statue of the President and the Tower of the Idea of Juche are sites for comrades to demonstrate their devotion by bowing, praying and leaving flowers. The parallel with Nebuchadnezzarís golden image is compelling (Daniel 3:1-30). Christians are demonised as agents of the imperialist West, but the real reason they are so hated is that they are seen as traitors because they worship another ‘god’.
Some North Koreans defect by crossing the shallow Tumen river into China, even at the risk of being shot dead if seen. In China, if they are discovered, they run the risk of being repatriated by the police, and being sent to a prison camp on their return.
Some North Koreans do defect from their legitimate work placements in Russia or China, or by crossing the shallow Tumen river into China at the north, even at the risk of being shot dead if seen. There are an estimated 350,000 North Koreans in China. Some of the women are forcibly married to farmers and effectively become slaves. Others move from place to place to escape detection, picking up what casual work they can. If they are discovered, they run the risk of being repatriated by the Chinese state police, and being sent to a prison camp on their return. A few make the 2,000-mile journey to Thailand, Laos or Vietnam from where they get to South Korea by sea.
However, when they arrive in South Korea, their troubles are not over. They do have a three-month stay in a resettlement centre which helps them to prepare for the adjustment. But they enter a society with a vastly higher standard of living than they have known ñ the exact opposite of what they have been told is the case; the language has significant differences; and because they are often unskilled, it may be hard for them to find work. Most of all, they must recover from their experiences, and face the fact that everything they have been told is untrue: they have been brainwashed and rendered highly dependent on the State to determine the detail of their lives. For some, these challenges are too great. Despite its wealth, South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and of these, the rate among North Koreans is disproportionately high. (Release International)