Is the underground church confined to North Korea’s lower class?
Not necessarily. In late 2004, Voice of the Martyrs reported that a North Korean army general had been executed for evangelizing to his troops. If an army general was an evangelizing Christian, how many other generals and officers are Christians in secret?
In any case, since the military officers top the privileged class in the North Korean society, Christianity isn’t confined to North Korea’s lower class.
Has the tide turned?
David Hawk continues:
“Interviewee 32 was a twenty-one year old woman who converted to Christianity while in China. She went back to North Korea voluntarily in 2000 and was arrested by the Gugkabowibu in 2002 for evangelizing. She sought to convert her jailers. She convinced the police that she prayed for North Korea because she loved her country and the Korean people, and that this could not be a crime. According to this interviewee, her jailers told her, “You have committed a crime related to religion, but the general forgives you and you can go free.”
“Following repatriation in 2002, Interviewee 22 was detained initially in a Gugkabowibujail in Hoeryong. With her was an old women in her sixties who prayed constantly “for God to save her.” Other prisoners thought she was crazy. The old woman was released, and Interviewee 22, who at that point was not herself a believer, thought nonetheless that the old woman’s release must have been “God’s will.”
“Some interviewees testified that because so many North Koreans go to Korean-Chinese churches as a matter of course, the North Korean police no longer treat this, at least in some places along the border, as cause for additional punishment in and of itself.”
Unfortunately, that was in 2005. More recent reports indicate that the Kim Jong Il government has since tightened its border, increasing the number of border guards, replacing or supporting them with army units, including sniper squad, and laying booby traps along the border.
Playing a logistically pivotal role in the ongoing spiritual battle for North Korea is its northern neighbor, China, where the North Koreans, especially women and girls, suffer yet more.
To reach China, North Koreans must travel for days unnoticed, often on foot, avoid drowning in the Tumen river that separates China from North Korea, as well as the North Korean border guards, who have orders to shoot to kill anyone escaping across the border, which is increasingly being fenced with barbed wires (both sides of the border) and electric voltage (Chinese side of the border).
One would expect China to have pity on the North Koreans who make it across. While some Chinese do, others exploit them. According to estimates, an astounding 70% of the women and girls as young as 12 years old are captured and sold either to brothels or as wives to ageing peasant farmers.
Why doesn’t the Chinese government intervene?
Instead of intervening, Chinese government actively hunts down the North Korean refugees. Anyone aiding North Korean refugees is threatened with a prison term and the refugees caught are taken to the border and handed over to North Korean agents.
The Chinese government also forbids international aid agencies, including UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) from travelling to the North Korean border region, let alone aiding the North Korean refugees. Instead, it invites North Korean agents into the region to hunt down the North Korean refugees.
Does the Chinese government have the right to repatriate North Korean refugees?
No, the UN Convention on Refugees obligates: “No Contracting State shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” (Article 33: Prohibition of Expulsion or Return)
China is not only a “Contracting State” to this convention, but also one of the Executive Board members of the UN Human Rights Commission and knows that repatriated North Korean Christians will face imprisonment, torture and execution, while pregnant women are forced to abort or deliver and then watch their babies killed.
It is hypocritical of China to have signed this Convention and to occupy a leadership position in the fight against human rights abuses around the world, yet hunt down and repatriate North Korean refugees, as well as turn a blind eye to the sexual trafficking of the vulnerable women and girls among them.
Why is the Chinese government doing this?
The proximate reason is that North Korean refugees burden the Chinese economy and could turn into a full-fledged exodus. Ultimately, Chinese government is propping up the North Korean regime as it prefers to share its border with a Communist neighbor than a reunited, US-allied Korea.