Every day in North Korea’s prison camps, 30,000 Christians rise to eat a few mouthfuls of cabbage and corn porridge before trudging to an assigned workplace. They spend about 15 hours toiling in coal mines, cleaning and maintaining the camp, or doing farm or construction work. In late evening, they eat the same meagre meal before falling to sleep on concrete floors.
Other Christians are not so fortunate. Instead of labouring for hours under the eye of cruel guards, they’re locked in torture chambers and underground prisons. Survivors of North Korean prison camps have described being locked in cages like animals, forced to stand for hours in tortuous positions and beaten until they vomited blood.
About 200,000 North Koreans are thought to be detained in prison camps that aren’t even acknowledged by the communist government to exist. The camps are disguised as military or farming facilities, and only officials with special security clearance are permitted to visit.
North Koreans found guilty of lesser crimes are sent to the kyohwaso, labour camps from which they might one day be released. But those found guilty of serious ‘crimes,’ such as practising Christianity, are sent to the kwanliso, controlled areas for political prisoners. The regime often arrests entire families, punishing three generations for the crime of one member.
Most prisoners sent to the kwanliso are incarcerated for life, if they aren’t executed immediately. Inmates are denied contact with the outside world, and not even their closest family members receive information on their whereabouts. Very few people have ever been released.
There are four known kwanliso prison camps, thought to hold over 65,000 prisoners. Nearly 40% of inmates die of starvation. Prisoners tell of eating grass and rats to survive and of fighting over a single kernel of corn. One escapee, Shin Dong-hyuk, said his own mother began to compete with him for food. Survivors are often permanently disfigured from torture and from being chained to walls for days or weeks at a time.
Most of those who have disappeared into kwanliso in recent years have been found guilty of one of three crimes: trying to flee North Korea, having unauthorised contact with South Koreans, or being Christians. According to testimony before the United Nations, Christianity in North Korea “has been compared to a drug, a sin and a tool of Western and capitalist invasion.”
While Christianity is not explicitly illegal and a few show churches are even allowed in Pyongyang, in practice, authorities consider Christianity a political crime. Agents are trained to suppress religious activities and to systematically interrogate repatriated citizens about their contact with churches and missionaries while outside North Korea. Those found to have engaged in such conduct face harsher punishment.
North Koreans who share the Gospel pay a high personal price. Christians there have known and accepted this for years. They fully expect their faith to result in their imprisonment. However, a Christian who works closely with defectors said they do not regard imprisonment with surprise or outrage; rather, they regard the prison camps as their mission field and view everything leading to their imprisonment as training.
Source: VOM USA