North Korea (ODM/MNN) — North Korea has announced it will release an unspecified number of prisoners starting today.
The amnesty is in commemorative honor of deceased leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, who would have been turning 100 and 70, respectively, this year.
Open Doors, USA reports that it is not unusual for North Korea to release prisoners for a leader's birthday, but general amnesties used to be granted twice a year until 2005. After that, only occasionally have prisoners been released before they have served their sentences.
It is still unclear as to how many prisoners will be released, but it's certain that only "re-educated" prisoners will be granted amnesty–prisoners who have been in a re-education camp for several years and have performed well in their tasks and in the mandatory ideology classes.
Christian prisoners will almost certainly not be released. People in political labor camps will never be released because they are labeled as "incurable." Those camps are full of politically-active people, refugees who are suspected to have been in contact with South Koreans, and ideological opponents such as Christians.
The prisoner release in North Korea is a bittersweet event. It's good news for those who will leave, but prisoners make up the bulk of North Korea's labor force. Therefore, as prisoners are released, others will need to be arrested to fill their spots. It would not be the first time that the police are ordered to increase the number of arrests. Those arrested could easily include Christians.
These prison camps have been described as torturous.
"I was in a small camp, not for my Christian activities, but because I was arrested in China," one young Christian told Open Doors. "Every day someone died, and I was forced to take the person outside the camp and bury him or her."
Another Christian spent several years in the most infamous camp, Yodok, a place he describes as "a living mass grave. The whole system made me desperate. I saw people dying of hunger and sickness. I saw executions. But one day we had to assemble in a big hall, and it was made known that in honor of the birthday of one of the leaders, a few prisoners would be released for good behavior. At that moment, I made the decision that I would be a model prisoner and I would survive this. I knew that I would have to stay at least three to five years in Yodok in order to be considered for release. I determined not to make any mistakes."
More than 1% of the total North Korean population wakes up in a prison or labor camp each day. The number of Christians in the political camps is estimated at 40,000 to 70,000.
North Korea is ranked the #1 persecutor of Christians by the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of believers. It was the 10th straight time North Korea has been ranked No. 1.
Pray for Christians during this amnesty. Pray that believers might be released and be safe from arrests. Pray that no matter what happens, the Gospel will not be silenced in North Korea.