Christian imprisonment in N. Korea worse than thought

By October 3, 2007

North Korea (MNN) — The number of North Koreans who are imprisoned in concentration camps is much greater than previously assumed.

"It is not inconceivable that the number of prisoners has passed the one million mark," reports Simon, director of Open Doors in North Korea. "Many camps are so large that they are not recognized as camps on satellite photos. They consist of entire villages." For security reasons, Simon doesn't reveal how the research was done. "There are many lives at stake," he stated.

The eight prison camps for political prisoners probably contain between half a million and a million people. In addition, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are made to work every day in 30 other camps. This is reported by Open Doors on the basis of research conducted inside the country.  

Because he has contact through networks with tens of thousands of Christians in North Korea, Simon estimates the number of underground Christians to be at least 200,000; it's likely that there are as many as 400,000 to half a million. At least a quarter of the Christians are imprisoned for their faith in political prison camps from which rarely is anyone released alive.

"In North Korea, it is strictly forbidden to be a Christian," said Simon. "Anyone who has a Bible is sent to a camp, along with his or her whole family. Refugees who are detained in China or North Korea can be sentenced to a few years in a prison camp. But if the North Korean authorities discover that the refugees have been in touch with Christians, they are dealt with much more harshly. Torture and execution often occur."

Open Doors receives refugees in China, but the number crossing the border is declining, Simon reports.

"It is so difficult to cross any of the border rivers. Traps have been laid on the North Korean side, including pits with bamboo spikes in them. On both sides of the river, high fences with barbed wire are being erected. Regularly raids are made both in North Korea and in China to arrest refugees and those helping them. China has installed cameras and offered rewards to anyone who reports refugees. In addition, there are heavy fines for people who help illegal North Koreans."

Simon is making a passionate appeal for prayer, particularly in the final months of this year.

"We are noticing that in the areas where refugees are received, the spying activities have greatly increased. North Korean spies are trying to infiltrate networks which are taking care of refugees. It is almost exclusively Christians who still dare to take pity on the North Koreans who have fled.

"There are clear indications that China wants to repatriate most of the refugees this year. Next year, in the run up to the Olympic Games, China will then be able to play along nicely by not deporting any more refugees. Many refugees have left their hiding places and are looking for new locations where they hope they will be safe. This is an extremely risky business, in which Open Doors is also involved. If there were ever a moment when North Korea needed prayer, it is now," said Simon.

To register for Open Doors USA's North Korea Prayer Campaign, go to http://www.opendoors.org/3ypnk-us/ . You will be asked to sign up and select a weekly 10-minute time frame when you can lift up North Korean Christians in prayer. You will also receive a weekly e-mail update of the current prayer requests.

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