North Korea’s expected release of three American Christians comes during heightened prayer and attention on the brutal dictatorship. North Korea ranks as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians.
The American Christians were charged with “hostile acts” of subversion against the country.
“Having faith in God is an act of espionage,” explained a North Korean defector.
The news broke on the U.S. National Day of Prayer and during North Korea Freedom Week, and days after history-making peace talks with South Korea and before a summit with the U.S.
Two of the Christians were teaching at Pyongyang Science and Technology University, founded by Evangelicals in 2010 and the only privately funded college in North Korea.
The Christians are:
Tony Kim, an accounting professor who made several trips to North Korea to teach at the Pyongyang University of Science Technology and help at an orphanage. He was detained at the Pyongyang Airport in April 2017 as he was leaving the country and accused of “acts of hostility” and aiming to overthrow the regime.
Kim Hak-song, an agricultural consultant working at an experimental farm run by Pyongyang Science and Technology University. He was detained in May 2017 for “hostile acts against the republic.”
Kim Dong-chul, a naturalized American living in China. He was accused of espionage and subversion and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor in April 2016. He owns a trade and hotel business in a special economic zone of North Korea. A North Korean defector told Reuters that Kim was a missionary and sent medical aid to help the poor in North Korea.
The U.S. State Department named North Korea one of the world’s worst religious persecutors, torturing and killing anyone suspected of worshipping God. It is estimated that 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are in prison/labor camps. More than 75% of these Christians do not survive, according to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights.
Defectors report Christians are crushed by steamrollers, used to test biological weapons, or hung on a cross over a fire. The government jails suspects without a trial and imprisons three-generations of family members. Some children report their parents for religious activities to authorities, so many parents will not talk about their faith until they are older.
In 2005, human rights investigator David Hawke interviewed 40 North Korean escapees.
One escapee said, “Having faith in God is an act of espionage.”
“We learned that there were two lives: one is the physical life and the other is the political life. We were taught that political life was forever along with the leaders and the Party. Therefore, I believed that my political life was more important than my physical life.”
“According to party covenant, Article 1, section 1, all North Koreans are required to worship Kim Il Sung with all our heart and might, even after his death. We have to venerate the pictures and statues of Kim Il Sung.”
“Religious freedom is not allowed in North Korea because it will ruin the deification of Kim Il Sung.”
Another said North Korean officials are anxious to catch believers because they fear “Christianity will defeat Juche.”
Juche is the official political ideology, a totalitarianism that worships the dynastic rulers Kim Il Sung as god, and his son Kim John Il as the son of god. Grandson and current ruler Kim Jong Un has reportedly executed growing numbers of people for not worshipping him.
“In the past, the people were told to worship the Kim family as their god, but many North Koreans no longer respect Kim Jong-un. That means they are looking for something else to sustain their faith,” a defector told The Telegraph.
“In some places, that has led to the emergence of shamens, but the Christian church is also growing and deepening its roots there. Even though people know they could be sent to prison – or worse – they are still choosing to worship, and that means that more cracks are appearing in the regime and the system,” he said.
“The Truth Will Set Them Free” is the theme of this year’s North Korea Freedom Week, an annual event to raise awareness of North Korea’s atrocities. The coalition of pastors and advocates says about 3 million people have died under North Korea’s dictatorship since the mid-1990s. Families starve to death as the government withholds food. The regime arbitrarily detains, tortures and executes its citizens, including children, in prison camps. Abandoned children and orphans wander the streets in search of food and shelter. Hundreds of thousands have fled to China but live in fear of forced repatriation, imprisonment and possible execution after being sent back to North Korea.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, “We must not forget the millions of North Koreans who continue to suffer under one of the most repressive and abusive governments in the world. For more than 60 years, the people of North Korea have faced egregious human rights violations in virtually every aspect of life.”
“In addition to the roughly 100,000 individuals, including children and family members of the accused, who suffer in political prison camps, North Koreans face an almost complete denial of fundamental freedoms by their government,” she said.
Christians run orphanages and other ministries without religious symbols in the border areas of North Korea, Chad O’Carroll of Korea Risk Group told Fox News. “They preach and practice through their actions rather than traditional ways,” he said.
Before the Korean War, North Korea was called the “Jerusalem of the East” for its vibrant Christian community. After the war, the communist regime instilled fear and hatred, calling America its greatest enemy and Christianity a tool of American imperialism. But ghosts of Christianity linger in the darkness, and “no matter how fierce the suppression, more North Koreans were beginning to call on the God whom they had forgotten,” reports Christian History Institute.
Tony Kim’s son tweeted,
“Thank you for your continued prayers and efforts to help bring them home. We look forward to all of the families being reunited very soon. Sol Kim #USA3.”