In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, all the nightmares are real—especially for Christians. A former prison guard in North Korea testified before the U.S. Congress in 2002 about how Christians are singled out for special abuse. The man said that after a woman prisoner was overheard praying aloud for a child who was being beaten, guards repeatedly kicked her. A former prisoner testified that she saw security officers fatally pour molten iron over several elderly Christians. They had refused to renounce their faith and adopt the Orwellian ideology of dictator Kim Jong Il.

The State Department's International Religious Freedom Report, released in September, gives credence to unconfirmed reports that "members of underground churches have been beaten, arrested, tortured, or killed because of their religious beliefs." Defectors, the report says, "claimed that Christians were imprisoned and tortured for reading the Bible and talking about God, and that some Christians were subjected to biological warfare experiments."

Over the last decade, more than 300,000 Koreans have fled this foretaste of hell. Increasing numbers attempt the perilous trek across the border to Communist China every day. Human-rights activist Michael Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, says many of these refugees are now "happy to be eating tree bark in China." Yet Chinese authorities are sending an estimated 5,000 refugees back every month, refusing their claims of political asylum and battling a small but determined band of human-rights activists. Shockingly, prosperous and heavily Christian South Korea, pursuing a "Sunshine Policy" of détente with Kim Jong Il, has allowed asylum for precious few North Koreans.

Yet the first signs of the nightmare's end are visible. Amid the fierce partisanship of the 2004 campaign, Congress approved the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004. "It is literally correct to call this success a miracle," Horowitz says.

The bill links human rights with other vital issues, such as weapons of mass destruction, in talks with the dictatorship in Pyongyang. H.R. 4011 calls for a special envoy for human rights. It also pressures the United Nations to push China to grant asylum to North Korean refugees, mandates that American food aid be distributed on a needs basis (and increasingly by nongovernmental organizations), and calls for more radio broadcasting into the fanatically controlled nation of 22 million people.

Totalitarian states, Horowitz notes, "are always more fragile and weak than they seem to be. When free people speak of the need for religious freedom and human rights, they unleash forces within those countries that weaken the hold of dictatorship."

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Horowitz credits evangelicals, aided by some key Jewish groups, with playing "the central role" in the passage of h.r. 4011. "It was the evangelical passion in the Wilberforce spirit that was the powerful animating force, the energizing force, around this issue."

Among the groups newly energized is the Korean Church Coalition (KCC), which formally organized in January and held its inaugural conference for more than 2,000 people in Los Angeles in late September. The KCC, so far representing 2,000 of the 4,300 ethnically Korean churches in the United States and Canada, released a Declaration for North Korea Freedom. The KCC is committed to prayer and other acts of compassion.

As with other human-rights issues, such as Sudan, this promises to be a long battle—but one well worth the local church's support.

Related Elsewhere:

Stan Guthrie interviewed Michael Horowitz following the passage of the bill, and wrote a news article about its passage.

Weblog also commented on the bill.

The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 is available from the Library of Congress.

The State Department's report on religious freedom in North Korea says, "the regime appears to have cracked down on unauthorized religious groups in recent years."

The Los Angeles Times has an article on the first gathering of the Korean Church Coalition.

Other Christianity Today articles on North Korea include:

A Heartless Homeland | Why more North Koreans than ever are fleeing their country. (Oct. 06, 2004)
The Nightmare of North Korea | One man's story of brutality, courage, love, and freedom. (Oct. 05, 2004)
Criminal Faith | Going nuclear, North Korea allows worship only of its dictator. (July 08, 2003)
Helping Refugees Run Roadblocks | No nation wants North Koreans, but Christians rally to their cause. (March 17, 2003)
Fleeing North Korea | Christians among the thousands making their way to China. (Oct. 7, 2002)
Persecution Summit Takes Aim at Sudan, North Korea | Christian leaders issue second "Statement of Conscience." (May 2, 2002)
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)

Bearing the Cross focused on North Korea in 2001.

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