North Korea (MNN) — Spotted easily on satellite images but heavily denied by the government, North Korean prison camps harbor horrors equal to the Holocaust. A biography released earlier this month profiles the only man to escape from a "total control zone" camp, Shin Dong-hyuk. After spending a few weeks on bestseller lists, Escape from Camp 14 is drawing international attention to North Korea.
As North Korea faces human rights criticisms, Open Doors USA draws attention to the plight of North Korean believers. The isolated Asian nation ranks #1 on the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List: a compilation of 50 countries where believers face the most religious persecution. An estimated 40,000 to 70,000 Christians suffer in total control zone internment camps, where people labeled as "wrong thinkers" are sent to die.
Shin Dong-hyuk was born in this same type of camp in 1982. In his book, Shin admits reporting his mother and brother to prison guards because they were going to escape without him. As a result, they were hung in front of Shin and other prisoners, and he was also tortured as punishment for their "crime."
Shin told American journalist Blaine Harden, author of Escape from Camp 14, "I wanted people to know this is the kind of children they are raising right now in these camps: people whose loyalty is to the guards and who will do anything to get more food."
Conditions in North Korean prison camps are similar to camps under the unforgettable regime of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. "Political prisoners" essentially work themselves to death while being subjected to severe physical and psychological torture. Open Doors reported they work 18-20 hours each day, with little to no food. To supplement their rations, prisoners consume anything edible, including snakes, rats, insects, roots, and grass.
In April, the U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released a report based on interviews with 60 former prisoners and guards. The 200-page report describes prison camps located mainly in northern mountainous regions behind barbed wire and electric fences — fences Shin climbed through to escape, using his best friend's body as insulation against the deadly current.
In 2009, North Korea told the UN Human Rights Council, "The term 'political prisoner' does not exist in the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] DPRK's vocabulary…the so-called political prisoners' camps do not exist." According to the April report, former prisoners were able to identify their work sites, execution grounds, and other landmarks using satellite imagery available through Google Earth.
Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said that while North Korea tries to hide the horrendous realities of Pyongyang, over 30,000 North Korean defectors have fled the country — up from 3,000 defectors ten years ago.
Pray for imprisoned believers in North Korea. Ask God to sustain them, and pray that they might be released. Pray for changes that can only be brought about by the Gospel.