Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
Select Page

04/18/2024 North Korea (International Christian Concern) – North Korea’s (DPRK) hatred of Christianity has condemned hundreds of thousands of Christians to death and left remaining believers fearful and hiding in the shadows. The DPRK’s treatment of Christians is only one part of a system of state control that “is not comparable to any other nation in the world,” according to Todd Krainin’s book, “I Escaped a North Korean Prison Camp.” As the world’s worst police state, North Korea crushes dissent and free expression by creating a web of control fashioned with three cords: songbun, the police state, and gulags.

SONGBUN

Songbun is a unique social classification system that the North Korean regime uses to segment society into three levels of loyalty to the regime: core, wavering, and hostile, based on a citizen’s ancestral and personal loyalty to the state. Any perceived disloyalty automatically eliminates the opportunity to reach the highest songbun known as core.

Despite his personal loyalty, one man describes in a 2014 Telegraph article how he received a ‘hostile’ songbun because his father “unintentionally soiled an image of Kim Jong Il.” As a result, his family would face “decades of harsh official discrimination” since hostiles are the lowest class.

Because the state is constantly propagating the message that its leaders are demigods, it is especially hostile toward Christianity as it offers a competing religious system and also exposes the citizenry to the religious source that the state has counterfeited.

Of the many defectors and experts we interviewed, we heard that the majority of Christians are probably killed outright when captured, with the percentage possibly as high as 70%. Those not killed outright are thrown into the fiery furnace (the gulag) never to return.

To achieve a middle or high standard of living, North Koreans must be classified as ‘core’ or ‘wavering.’ The state then determines what services and goods it provides to people based on their songbun. For example, employment opportunities, access to social welfare and food, housing, etc. are more plentiful for the core class, spotty for the wavering class, and virtually nonexistent for the hostile class. According to Jieun Baek, without government provisions, wavering and hostile class members only make $3-$5 per month “and must participate in criminalized market activity to survive.” Increased black market activity then increases the likelihood of arrest.

POLICE STATE

The undergirding of songbun is a massive state intelligence operation that constantly monitors all citizens according to David Hawk, an expert on human rights in North Korea. Hawk told ICC, “[The DPRK] was always watching what we were saying, watching what we were doing.” Another defector ICC interviewed mentioned the phrase used by citizens to sum up living under the eyes of the police state: “The walls have ears and the fields have eyes.”

Public safety police watch and respond to criminal behavior while the state security police monitor political behavior, similar to the Gestapo, according to Hawk. Citizens are “in constant fear and anxiety” of being arrested.

What’s worse, the DPRK forces citizens to spy on each other and report suspicious behavior to police. Citizens must join in-min-ban neighborhood watch teams that regularly report their neighborhood’s political culture to state leaders, including details like spending patterns and the number of “chopsticks and spoons in every house” according to North Korea News.

Thanks to the police state and in-min-ban, many Christians hide their faith from family and friends and avoid worship with any other Christians because Christians are terrified of arrest. A USCIRF report states that most North Koreans “have never witnessed any religious activity.” According to one North Korean, “There are churches…[but they are] built only for foreigners to attend.”

GULAGS

“I was within hours of death; sick, malnourished and frozen from the deplorable conditions of the prison cell,” recalls former prisoner Hea Woo. “I didn’t think I would ever see the outside of the prison cell.”

Woo and others who are arrested are sentenced to the gulags; massive labor camps loosely based on Stalin’s prison system, where prisoners suffer horrific treatment. While the DPRK denies their existence, satellite images and former prisoners’ testimonies have lifted the veil over the camps to unveil a hellish world.

North Korea operates four types of gulags. The kwan-li-so, similar to Nazi concentration camps, holds political prisoners without a “charge, let alone a trial, many of them for knowing someone who has fallen out of favor,” Amnesty International reports. The kyo-hwa-so camp is a long-term prison for convicted felons who have committed criminal acts and gone through the judicial process. A jip-kyul-so camp is a short-term, hard labor gulag with high death rates for misdemeanor political and criminal offenders. Finally, the ro-dong-ryon-dae gulag is a mobile labor brigade reserved primarily for repatriated North Koreans sent back from China.

Torture and starvation define North Korean gulags. Located in remote mountains with extremely tight security, escape is almost impossible. Prisoners live on the edge of starvation, yet the system demands that prisoners farm, manufacture, raise animals, and do heavy mining and lumber harvesting. In an Amnesty International report, a former guard named Mr. Lee described how women regularly “servic[ed]” prison officials and then “disappeared…because the secret could not get out.”

Within the gulag, no one is protected from brutality. Not even children. A CNN article tells of a woman near starvation, who gave birth to her baby in prison despite the rules against pregnancy. A guard heard the baby’s cries and beat the mother. She begged the guard to let her keep the newborn, but he continued to beat her…and then he forced her to hold her new baby face down underwater until the baby died.

Eventually, prisoners become desensitized to death. In the same CNN article one prison camp survivor said, “Because we saw so many people die, we became so used to it. I’m sorry to say that we became so used to it that we didn’t feel anything.”

TINSEL STATUE

DPRK’s web of control would make Stalin, Hitler, and Mao envious. One defector and former prisoner of a DPRK gulag, in speaking with ICC’s president, was asked if he had read “The Gulag Archipelago” by Alexander Solzenitzyn (the seminal and horrifying history of the Soviet gulag system); he told him that he had, but that DPRK’s system was infinitely worse!

The totally insular culture of DPRK, its people density, and the fact that all citizens share the same culture and language magnify the efficiency and effectiveness of the police state.

The state uses the songbun system, the intelligence agencies, and the gulags, to spy on, arrest, torture, and strangle any threat to its ideology or supremacy.

Much like Nebuchadnezzar and all false tyrannical systems that listen to and mimic the beast, the state demands that all its citizens, but especially Christians, must bow before its tinsel statue. Those that won’t are thrown into the fiery furnace. But unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, precious few escape the state’s wrath.

To read more stories like this, sign up for ICC’s free monthly magazine.