Hiding in the Shadow of Injustice: North Korea

Imagine that you are a person of faith, but you are completely unfree to act on your conscience because you live under the most repressive and dangerous regime on earth.

In a Washington Post op-ed on Friday, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen said North Korea continues to commit unconscionable crimes against its citizens. He and co-author Sam Nunn said the country presents one of the most dangerous international security challenges facing the world.

Open Doors has ranked North Korea as #1 on its World Watch list for 14 straight years, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) lists North Korea as a tier one “country of particular concern.” But with the conflicts in the Middle East, Nigeria, and elsewhere, North Korea is often not top of mind because it can seem hopeless to imagine anything can be done to reverse 65 years of oppression.

In North Korea, organized religion is seen as a threat to the regime, and except for token churches built as a facade of religious freedom for foreign visitors, there is no freedom of conscience. Thousands of Buddhists and Christians have been purged and persecuted throughout the history of North Korea. Christians are to this day viewed as “Western” and “despicable.” People caught practicing or spreading religion in secret — the only place they can — are punished harshly, including by public execution or by being sent to labor camps where more than 100,000 are currently being held. Imagine filling the largest U.S. football stadium with forced laborers instead of fans.

Why don’t these persecuted people leave? The North Korean regime makes it illegal to leave the country without state permission, but every year thousands of North Koreans risk their lives to escape a combination of a lack of freedoms and economic hardship. If caught trying to escape, or if caught in China and sent back, they are at risk of punishments including brutal beatings, forced labor, forced abortions, torture, and internment in a political prison camp. Those suspected of having had contact with South Koreans or Christians while in China receive the most severe punishments.

Currently, more than 300,000 North Korean refugees in China live in precarious and sometimes desperate situations. As mentioned, they fear harsh punishment or death if they are caught and sent back to North Korea, but many do not have the resources or contacts to get themselves out of China. Their illegal status forces them to work in invisible industries and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by some employers and sex traffickers.

Many organizations in the United States and abroad, including the Korean Church Coalition, Open Doors, the North Korean Freedom Coalition and Liberty in North Korea, seek to raise awareness for those persecuted for their faith in North Korea as well as the refugees who manage to flee to China. Wherever you are in the world, below are some ideas about how you can speak freedom for North Korea.

Lou Ann Sabatier, Director of Strategic Communications


1. Visit the North Korea Freedom Coalition website and learn more about Save North Korea Refugees day later this week and North Korea Freedom Week in April. If you live in the Washington DC metro area, meet at 5 pm, Friday, September 23rd at the park across the street from the Chinese embassy for a demonstration to Save North Koreans, the delivery of a petition on behalf of the refugees, and a candlelight vigil to remember these victims.

2. Be a solidarity city and plan an event in support of North Korea’s freedom and human rights by hosting a defector for a presentation. Or, schedule a film screening and ask for support for the many NGOs working to save North Korean refugees and get information into North Korea.

3. Read USCIRF’s 2016 North Korea report and pray not only that leaders of North Korea will seek justice and religious freedom for their countrymen, but also that the sacrifices of those persecuted for their faith will bear fruit.