SANTA ANA, Calif. (Jan. 31, 2012) – North Korea has announced the amnesty of prisoners to commemorate deceased leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il. 2012 is the 100th birthday (in April) of Kim Il-Sung, who died in 1994, and the 70th birthday (in February) anniversary of his son, who passed away last December. Starting Wednesday an unknown number of prisoners will be released.
These general amnesties used to be granted twice a year until 2005. After that, only occasionally some prisoners were released before they had served their sentences. The only prisoners that are eligible to be selected are those who are considered “re-educated.” This means they have been in a re-education camp for several years and have performed well in their tasks and in the mandatory ideology classes.
People in political labor camps will never be released because they are labeled as “incurable.” Those camps are full of politically active people, refugees who are suspected to have been in contact with South Koreans and ideological opponents such as Christians.
The released prisoners are fortunate to get out of these concentration camps alive. However, for others this special amnesty could mean bad news. North Korea heavily depends on production from these camps. It needs this cheap and replaceable labor force. It would not be the first time that the police are ordered to increase the number of arrests so the empty places in the barracks are soon filled again.
Christians that have been in these horrendous circumstances describe the re-education camps as an absolute hell.
“I was in a small camp, not for my Christian activities, but because I was arrested in China,” says one young Christian. “Everyday someone died and I was forced to take the person outside the camp and bury him or her. I know it is not right, but I still hate those guards. One of my other family members is now in a political camp. I dare not think of what happens to her; it is too painful.”
Another Christian spent several years in the most infamous camp, Yodok, a place he describes as “a living mass grave.”
He adds: “The whole system made me desperate. I saw people dying of hunger and sickness. I saw executions. But one day we had to assemble in a big hall and it was made known that in honor of the birthday of one of the leaders, a few prisoners would be released for good behavior. At that moment, I made the decision that I would be a model prisoner and I would survive this. I knew that I would have to stay at least three to five years in Yodok in order to be considered for release. I determined not to make any mistakes.”
He didn’t and he was granted amnesty. However, another prisoner who unexpectedly was released died of a sudden heart attack.
A third former prisoner describes her stay in a labor camp as undergoing “10 plagues” at the same time every day. Asked what the worst event was during her stay in the camp, she remained silent. Then she said: “I could not tell you. Every day was like torture. People were dying and their corpses were burnt. The guards scattered the ashes over the road. We walked that road every day and each time I thought: one day the other prisoners will walk over me.”
More than 1 percent of the total North Korean population wakes up in a prison or labor camp each day. The number of Christians in the political camps is estimated at 40,000 to 70,000.
North Korea is ranked the top 1 persecutor of Christians by the Open Doors 2012 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of believers. It was the 10th straight time North Korea has been ranked No. 1.
An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world’s most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
(For more information or to set up an interview, contact Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email [email protected])