Tuesday, 24 Nov 2020

Survivors recall harrowing ordeals of religious prisoners in North Korea

Dozens of exiles from North Korea have described the harrowing ordeals endured by religious prisoners in the country’s notorious ‘re-education’ camps.

Survivors have revealed how some inmates were worked to death in gruelling conditions, while female prisoners were subjected to forced abortions or simply had newborn babies ripped away from them and killed.

More than 100 were interviewed about their experiences of religious persecution in the country spanning three decades by staff at the London-based Korea Future Initiative, who compiled their horrific accounts into a report.

Despite the prisons and labour camps being intended to punish all religious believers, their stories show that the harshest sentences – ranging from execution to torture and sexual violence – were meted out to Christians.

In one case, a man who converted to Christianity claimed to have been imprisoned into a metal cage measuring only 3ft by 4ft wide with bars ‘heated with electricity’.

He said prisoners typically only lasted three or four hours in the cage, but his prayers helped him endure 12 before he eventually soiled himself and passed out.

Another recalled pregnant women being injected with something to trigger labour, MailOnline reports.

After giving birth to live babies, the newborns would be taken from them, smothered by guards using plastic sheets or cloth sacks and then discarded in a cleaning cupboard.

The report also documented abuse of North Koreans taking place in China before the victims were sent back to their homeland and tortured further.

One witness recalled a man being strapped into a chair with corrugated iron backing and a metal rod slid across his face.

He was held like that and deprived of sleep for three days before being imprisoned for three months with his arms and legs bound.

The prisoner was then deported to North Korea where repeated torture sessions left his spine permanently deformed.

Other methods of tormenting inmates include strangulation, using stress positions and pouring water laced with pepper down prisoners’ nostrils.

The report explains that Christianity was relatively common in the Korean Peninsula before the Soviet Civil Administration came to power in 1945.

It soon launched a campaign of repression, hammering home the message that loyalty to the state comes above any religious beliefs.

After the Korea War led to the separation of North and South Korea the Kim dynasty then sought to replace religion entirely with a cult of personality.

One prisoner described it as being: ‘There is no religion in the world and Kim Jong-il is God.’

All religious worship is now prohibited in the country, while possessing religious items such as crosses and prayer books is strictly forbidden.

Clandestine networks of Christians still exist, but the authorities use informants and undercover officers to spy on the underground churches.

Il-lyong Ju, an exiled human rights advocate who helped compile the report, said: ‘The cruel actions of the privileged few in North Korea who take our lives and control our thoughts must be prevented.

‘North Korean officials, whose crimes evoke thoughts of Auschwitz, must be identified and held accountable.’

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