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North Korea is using Christians as guinea pigs to test chemical and biological weapons.
Christians caught possessing Christian literature, conducting Bible studies or gathering for prayer meetings are subject to imprisonment – and so are their entire families, including children and elderly grandparents.
“Christians are the target of fierce government action, and once caught, are not regarded as human,” said a veteran observer of North Korea who cannot be identified for security purposes. “Last year we had evidence that some were used as guinea pigs to test chemical and biological weapons.”
The human rights charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide alleges that chemical experiments have been done on political prisoners. In 2004, the British Broadcasting Company detailed such charges in a special report, “Access to Evil.”
The news documentary featured Kwon Hyok, a former North Korean prison official. He described a number of atrocities, including an incident in which 50 healthy women prisoners were selected and given poisoned cabbage leaves, which all the women had to eat despite their cries of distress.
All 50 were dead after 20 minutes of vomiting blood and anal bleeding. Refusing to eat the cabbage would have meant reprisals against their families.
Kwon, who had been the head of security at Camp 22, described laboratories equipped respectively for poison gas, suffocation gas and blood experiments, in which three or four people, normally a family, were the experimental subjects. After undergoing medical checks, the chambers were sealed and poison was injected through a tube while scientists observed.
Kwon described watching a family of two parents, a son and a daughter die from suffocating gas with the parents trying to save the children using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for as long as they had the strength.
Both the British human rights group Release International and Netherlands-based Open Doors rate North Korea as the world’s most brutal regime in dealing with Christians.
“North Korean Christians are arguably subject to the worst persecution in the world,” says Release International’s Tim Peters. “As the North Korean economy continues its slow-motion collapse, reports of worsening persecution of Christians are coming out of North Korea.”
Tremendous hardship and food shortages are forecast since the country’s recent harvests have been poor.
North Korea tops the Open Doors list of countries where Christians are severely persecuted. The group’s World Watch List is derived from a questionnaire of 53 questions sent to Open Doors workers, church leaders and experts in 70 nations. It examines every aspect of persecution, including the degree of legal restrictions, state attitudes, how free the church is to organize itself, church burnings, anti-Christian riots and the murders of Christians that make headlines.
Persecution is particularly severe in North Korea where any religious activity is viewed as an act of insurrection against the dictator, Kim Jong-Il. Arrests, torture and death are routine as North Korean officials desperately try to control all of society.
Open Doors reports an estimated 200,000 North Koreans are in political prisons, including 40,000 to 60,000 Christians.
BBC also interviewed Kim Sang Hun, a human rights activist, who showed documents that he said were brought from Camp 22 by an escapee. Some of the documents described how a certain prisoner was to be transferred for experimentation with chemical weapons. A London based expert on Korea told viewers that the documents appear to be genuine.
The Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia details the story of Lee Soon Ok, another North Korean defector who testified before the U.S. Senate testimony on June 21, 2002, then wrote in her memoir, Eyes of the Tailless Animals, how she witnessed lethal human experimentation
Former prison guard Ahn Myung Chul has reported on the Internet website DailyNK that prisoners are used for “medical operation practice” for young North Korean doctors.
According to Ahn, doctors would perform unneeded practice surgery without anesthesia.
Christianity is considered a political crime in North Korea, since it does not recognize any authority greater than the “Dear Leader,” dictator Kim Jong Il. Merely possessing a Bible can result in public execution. Tens of thousands of believers are currently incarcerated as political criminals in the country’s concentration camps. Many don’t survive more than a few years and those who are not killed usually starve, according to Open Doors.
“Kim Jong-Il continues to have a hold on the country,” said Open Doors President Carl Moeller. “But we know that Christians are praying that this is the year that they have freedom of religion, all kinds of freedom, and the regime will collapse.”
He said the Christian community in North Korea has been growing significantly despite the persecution. The organization recently provided secret training for 4,000 Christians there, books are being distributed and other outreaches that cannot be publicized are under way.
“The situation in the North is getting worse,” reports former political prisoner Kang Cheol Hwan. “It is like a giant prison camp has crossed the land. Starvation spreads out over the entire nation; it has become the norm. I lived in Yoduk prison camp for 10 years; I was treated like an animal there.
“I had watched many people die from starvation and beatings. I witnessed open executions and watched helplessly as people died miserably. These fearful scenes have not left my mind.”
Another Christian refugee, who wishes to be called only “Mary,” secretly sends food parcels from China into North Korea, along with copied verses of the Bible. Many around the border area have come to know Christ as a result of her visits, she believes. In particular, she mentions the conversion of her uncle.
‘The hardest months are March, April and May,” he wrote recently from inside North Korea. “Those without food must eat grass and catch frogs. At the market there is meat, but it’s not affordable.”
In a single month Mary delivered 100 packages, containing sausages, bread, soap and a toothbrush as well as Bible verses. But she is taking terrible risks – whether she is caught by the Chinese or the North Koreans. Her work is illegal in either country.
However, she cannot give up, she says. “God has poured His love upon me so I cannot stop my work,” she says.
On February 16, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, celebrated his 69th birthday with many festivities, including dance performances and the screening of a documentary promoting himself as North Korea’s savior. However, the reality for the people living in this restrictive nation is starkly different, reports the Christian support group Voice of the Martyrs.
North Koreans suffer severely because of skyrocketing inflation and the shortage of daily necessities. Nationwide, more and more people are starving to death, according to reports.
In Hwanghae province, there are increasing numbers of homeless children and people dying of starvation. A recent report from a North Korean Christian stated, “It’s normal to see children lying dead on the street.”
Given such practices, “It is certainly not a shock that North Korea is No. 1 on the list of countries where Christians face the worst persecution,” said Moeller. “There is no other country in the world where Christians are persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner. “Three generations of a family are often thrown into prison when one member is incarcerated.”
According to Open Doors, Iran, which previously had been third on the list of countries persecuting Christians, has moved up to second, bumping Saudi Arabia, after a wave of arrests of Christians that began in 2008 continued and then intensified last year.
“It is suspected that the arrests are a way for the Iranian government to distract attention from internal problems, including the domestic turmoil after the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” an Open Doors spokesman said. “Most of those arrested were mistreated in prison.”
Also on the Open Doors list at third is Saudi Arabia, with fourth Somalia, fifth the Maldives Islands, sixth Afghanistan, seventh Yemen, eighth Mauritania, ninth Laos and tenth, Uzbekistan.
Only North Korea and Laos are not Muslim. Both are Communist. Of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians, 35 are Muslim.
“We can classify that as a growing trend,” said Jerry Dykstra, an Open Doors spokesman.
“Iran jumping to No. 2 is noteworthy.”
The only country to drop from the Open Doors top 10 was Eritrea, which fell from ninth to eleventh. There were improvements in the treatment of Christians in Algeria, India, Cuba, Jordan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the group said.