The Documented Killing of a North Korean Christian

June 5, 2013 by Open Doors in Stories of Persecution


Few executions of Christians are actually documented, since fewer and fewer people are murdered in public. However, eye-witnesses have described the gruesome killing of one Christian in North Korea’s Chongori prison in 1998.

Chongori is a relatively small prison camp in North Korea. It holds approximately 6,000 prisoners who are forced to undergo hard labor, torture and ‘reeducation’. Secret executions are not uncommon. Between July and September 1998 the guards used a very gruesome method to kill several prisoners.

One night a total of seven prisoners from various cells were told to pack up their belongings and ordered by Choi Kwang, a middle-aged police interrogator, to come out of the cellblock. The seven included Kim Ju-won, in his mid-50s, who was serving a prison term as a traitor due to his Christian faith. Kim wore a red t-shirt that his sister had given him while visiting her brother a few days earlier. The other prisoners thought that the seven were part of a routine transfer to another prison, a fairly common occurrence.

The prisoners were brought to a corridor in another building and told to wait there. The prisoners were then called into a room one by one and told to sit facing four uniformed officers at the front of the room. Another officer stood behind a separate table in the area between the prisoner and the four officers seated in a row. In addition, two guards were posted, one on each side of the prisoner. The prisoner took his seat, fully aware of the regulations that he was not allowed to lift his head to look squarely in the eyes of the interrogators. The guards on either side of the prisoner held behind a strong, thin metal wire, either coiled or hanging loose. The prisoner, with his face towards the floor in utter submission to the proceedings, was purposely positioned and unable to see the wires in the guards’ hands.

The officer in the middle of the room, smoking a cigarette, was police captain Choi Kwang-bin, assigned to this prison from the North Korean capital Pyongyang. He was responsible for carrying out secret executions and was on-site in case anything unexpected happened.

Each prisoner awaited the same fate. One of the four officers seated in authority at the front of the room accused him of some type of secretive crime, like hiding ammunition under the chimney of his house. The prisoner, upon hearing such a strange and false accusation, instinctively raised his head in surprise and to deny the allegation. At that moment the two guards moved rapidly to wrap the thin wires around his exposed neck and tighten them in a death grip. The prisoners were all strangled to death. The execution left hideous effects on the victim. Two carefully selected prisoners, both relatively trusted work unit chiefs, were assigned to remove the corpses one by one. A prison official forced them to sign an affidavit swearing them to silence about all details relating to secret executions.

Not long later, a group of about 40 prison farm work units were on their way to the fields at dawn. It was still dark when the weary workers came across a strange back lying in the middle of the road. Opening the bag, they found a human corpse with a familiar red t-shirt. The prisoners immediately identified him as Kim Ju-won, the Christian prisoner. His lifeless body had dropped from a truck carrying dead prisoners for a burial in the more remote, hilly area of the prison camp.

The killing of Kim and the six other prisoners is one of only few documented secret executions. It is described in detail by eye-witnesses to human rights organization North Korean Human Rights, the 3rd Way and published in the book: ‘Eyewitness: A Litany of North Korean Crimes against Humanity’, which was recently released in English. 

North Korean refugees who have just escaped the country still testify that many people die at the hands of their captors. Sadly, the case of Kim and his fellow prisoners is no exception. Pray for the North Korean population, that they will soon experience true freedom. Pray for the guards and other ‘persecutors’ too that they may receive forgiveness for their crimes.

Photo: Re-education in North Korean prison camp