From ages 9 to 19, Kang Ch'orhwan witnessed death by starvation, torture, and public execution in one of North Korea's detention centers for political prisoners. There thousands of Christians are still wasting away, as the Communist dictatorship regards faith as subversive.

Because authorities punish not only the charged but their families to three generations, Ch'orhwan was incarcerated for false accusations of espionage made against his grandfather. In the detention camp, he saw Christians punished for praying; forbidden to look up to heaven, they were beaten if they raised their eyes from the ground.

"As Christians could not get out alive, I could not understand why they voluntarily put themselves under the brutal condition of concentration camps when they could be sent back home with one simple denial of their invisible God," Ch'orhwan testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1999.

Christians in North Korean prison camps are rounded up monthly for torture and executions, says Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation (the U.S. partner of the Seoul-based human-rights organization Citizens Alliance to Help Political Prisoners in North Korea). The regime, she says, propagates its own trinity: deceased former President Kim Il Sung as Father, President Kim Jong-il as Son, and official Juche (roughly translated as "self-reliance") ideology as the Holy Spirit.

Prisoners unable to contain their horror at executions are deemed disloyal to the party and are punished with electrical shock, often to death. Others are sent into solitary confinement in containers so cramped that their legs become permanently paralyzed.

Eight Christians working in a prison smelting factory died instantly when molten iron was poured onto them, one by one, for refusing to deny their faith, according to eyewitness Soon Ok Lee, who also testified before the Senate committee. She had endured six years of torture before being released and escaping to South Korea, where she became a Christian.

About 100,000 of North Korea's estimated 500,000 Christians are imprisoned for their faith, according to Paul F. Schotchmer of the Sentinel Group. Also, about half of the estimated 100,000 to 300,000 North Korean refugees on the Chinese side of the border are believers as a result of Christian relief workers ministering to them, says Douglas Shin of the Los Angeles-based rights organization Exodus 21.

These refugees live in terror of Chinese authorities, who employ bounty hunters to capture and send them back to certain imprisonment—and death by starvation, disease, or torture—in North Korea, he says.

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Related Elsewhere

The Chosun Journal works towards human rights in North Korea. The site has testimonials, news, and editorials.

Encyclopedia Britannica has information on North Korea.

An extensive North Korea profile was prepared under the Country Studies/Area Handbook program of the U.S. Department of the Army.

The Washington Post May 16 article on the country's food crisis reported that International donors feed at least one-third of North Korea's 22 million people. Later that month, The Washington Post reported on the country's increasing persecution of Christians.

For more articles and resources, see Yahoo's full coverage area on the North Korea.

Previous Christianity Today articles on North Korea include:

South Koreans Help Neighbors (Aug. 9, 1999)

Famine Toll Exceeds 1 Million (Oct. 5, 1998)

Editorial: North Korea's Hidden Famine | The poor and the weak should not have to starve due to the policies of their government. (May 19, 1997)

Evangelicals Plead for Korean Aid (April 7, 1997)

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