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Will Our Calls to Spare Son Jung-nam Be Heard?

ICC Note: This article provide brief case studies of Christian persecution in North Korea and touches on current efforts to free a Christian sentenced to death for his faith.

By Shin Hyo-seop

7/21/07 North Korea (Chosun) – In early 1990, dozens of security police raided the basement of a building in Anak County in North Korea ‘s South Hwanghae Province , where 86 “underground Christians” were attending a religious service. The snitch was a 27-year-old daughter of a local security policewoman who had recently joined the group. She memorized what the members were saying and ratted them out to the authorities.

For her efforts, dictator Kim Jong-il made the snitch a senior security officer and awarded her the Medal of Labor Hero — North Korea ‘s highest medal of honor — and a color TV. The country’s security agency dubbed the raid the “Hwanghae Province Incident.”

In 1997, Lt. Col. Shim Joo-il, a political officer at the Organization Department of the Pyongyang Defense Command, obtained a Bible from a friend. The Bible had been smuggled into the country through South Korean missionaries, passed to North Koreans on a visit to China .

Skeptical of his country’s belief system, Shim read the Bible by himself and soon became a devout Christian. He defected from North Korea in 1999. Currently he works as a pastor in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province , while translating the Bible into the North Korean dialect and sending copies across the border.

In 2005 preacher Lee Min-bok, a North Korean defector, traveled to Dandong, a Chinese town near the North Korean border, carrying a balloon gas canister. He was detained for a while by Chinese police for “terrorist acts” for having attempted to send balloons with Christian messages and Bibles into the sky over Sinuiju , North Korea …

Recently the looming execution of a North Korean Christian, Son Jung-nam, has become a new diplomatic issue between Washington and Pyongyang . Son fled North Korea in 1998 and became a Christian after meeting South Korean missionaries in China . He was arrested by Chinese police in 2001 while preaching to North Korean defectors and repatriated to the North, where he was detained at a political prison camp in North Hamgyeong Province .

Released from the prison, Son defected to the South again in 2004. He returned to Pyongyang last year in another attempt to spread his faith, but was arrested. North Korea sentenced him to death, calling him a “national traitor” for adopting the “unpatriotic ideology” of Christianity in a foreign country and propagating it to North Koreans.

Influential American politicians are paying keen attention to Son’s case, as his younger brother in South Korea alerted Christians in South Korea and the U.S. to the situation. U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos and five U.S. senators have sent letters pleading for Son’s life to Kim Jong-il, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice….

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