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NORTH KOREA: Christian prisoners are being beaten, tortured and starved

Christian prisoners are being beaten, tortured and starved

By Julian Mann


Christian Today (15.12.2021) – https://bit.ly/3GTZZ9L – Christians in Communist North Korea are being tortured more than members of any other religious group, according to a new report from human rights campaigners Korea Future.


Torture victims interviewed for the report showed “scars and skeletal deformities” and suffered “back pain, incorrect healing of fractures, somatic complaints, and depressive disorders”.


Korea Future launched the report, “Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment experienced by North Korea’s Religious Minorities”, on Tuesday.


It is based on 237 interviews with survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators of persecution who fled the Marxist dictatorship into democratic South Korea.


It states: “Christianity claims fewer adherents, yet it is the most severely persecuted religious tradition within North Korea.


“Underground churches consisting of small congregations exist in North Korea, but are rare and subject to extreme levels of persecution.”


According to one witness, state security officials beat to death a female Christian prisoner who had been running an underground church.


“Her lip was shredded. The officers held her hair and pounded her head against the cell bars. One officer told her to lay her hand on the ground. He stepped on it and turned his feet 90 degrees. All of her fingers broke. She was denied medical treatment.


“I told her to stop running the underground church, but she said she had church members to take care of. She later died after she was seriously physically beaten by Ministry of State Security officials,” the witness reported.


The report relates how the regime uses deprivation of food in penal facilities as a form of torture.


One survivor said: “The correctional officers chopped up frozen radish. There were only small pebbles and grains of sand served with the radish. At first, I could not eat the radish because of the small pebbles and grains of sand crunching between my teeth. But by the fifth day, I had to eat it because I was starving.”


Another related: “I was extremely malnourished. My bones were showing. I kept praying in the cell because that was my only refuge. If I were to say anything about my religion, I would either have been executed by firing squad at the penal facility or transferred to a political prison camp for the remainder of my life.


“In the penal facility, I had to scavenge grass, beans, and potatoes from the field where I was forced to labour just to survive. I ate the crops that were still covered with dirt.”


The report describes how the North Korean government has persecuted the followers and institutions of Korean Buddhism, Catholicism, Cheondogyo, North Korean Shamanism, and Protestantism over a period of 73 years.


Since the late 1950s, the “songbun class system”, formed to grade citizens’ loyalty to the regime, has meant “religious persons are classified as hostile to the state and subject to absolute discrimination and persecution”.


“The expansion of a political prison camp system, which detains up to three generations of families associated with religion for life, has embedded religion and belief as a de facto crime in the political and social consciousness of North Korea,” it says.


Photo : North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a grand military parade celebrating the 70th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Army.Reuters

Further reading about FORB in North Korea on HRWF website

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NORTH KOREA: North Korean defectors struggle adapting to life in the South

North Korean defectors struggle adapting to life in the South

After fleeing the brutal North Korean dictatorship, defectors face tough challenges adjusting to their new home. Activists say Seoul should be doing more to help.


By Julian Ryall


Die Welt (24.10.2021) – https://bit.ly/3nJtYJJ – More than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the famine in the 1990s, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. The number of North Korean defectors dropped from more than 1,000 in 2019 to 229 last year, after the North brought in strict border controls to prevent spread of the coronavirus.


Some North Koreans who successfully circumvent the tightened restrictions at the border will go on to face prejudice in the South.


A study released in February by the Korea Hana Foundation (KHF), a state-run organization that assists North Korean defectors with settling in the South, found that 17% of the 3,000 individuals polled said they had experienced discrimination over the previous 12 months.


Though that was down from the previous year, it pointed to prejudice in South Korean society against defectors from the North as ongoing.


Defectors report bullying, depression


According to the report, defectors encounter barriers to education, accommodation and employment opportunities.


Defector Yeong-nam Eom, who escaped North Korea in 2010 and is affiliated with Seoul-based nonprofit Freedom Speakers International (FSI), said he experienced discrimination when applying for jobs, similar to encounters described in the report.


“At first, I sent out my resume more than 100 times with all my background,” he said, “including my education and work experience in North Korea.”


“But not one company invited me to an interview,” he said. “So then I only put my experiences in South Korea on my resume and I quickly started getting calls from companies.” 


He also reported that other defectors struggled with adapting to their new life. One young man told him that he experienced severe depression after feeling excluded from South Korean society while knowing that a return to the North was impossible. 


“He was not sure of his identity anymore,” Eom said. “He did not feel as if he belonged anywhere, and he became more and more depressed until he came very close to committing suicide. He did not go through with it in the end, but he struggled to find his own future in South Korea for a long time.”


Another defector told Eom that he was badly bullied after disclosing to his new university classmates that he was originally from the North.


How do North Koreans experience discrimination?


The vast majority of those reporting experiences of prejudice in the KHF study said it was because of cultural differences between the two nations, such as accent, manner of speaking, societal manners or lifestyles.


Forty-four percent of those taking part in the annual study said they were treated differently because they were from the North. Nearly 23% said they were criticized for not having the same level of education or work skills as their South Korean counterparts.


As well as struggling with different variations of their shared Korean language, few defectors can speak English, as the regime in the North does not encourage its people to look beyond their borders, said Eun-koo Lee, co-founder and co-president of FSI.


“It can be very difficult for defectors to find a job in South Korea for many reasons, but one big issue is that they have not had the chance to learn English and are often confused with ‘Konglish’ — a combination of Korean and English — that many people in the South tend to use,” she said.


Song Young-Chae, an academic and activist with the Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea, said many of the defectors his organization helps to adjust into a new life in the South have a crisis of identity.


“When they were in the North, these people never thought for themselves and simply did as the state ordered them to do,” Song said.


“Now they are free and they have choices, they can travel, they can speak freely,” he added. “It’s all very confusing for many of them.”


He added that some defectors found integration difficult after becoming disillusioned by the politics of their new country. They reported feeling frustrated by an apparent lack of solidarity between the South’s lawmakers and citizens who were not taking a stand against human rights abuses in the North in the way they had expected.


How can North-South integration be improved?


Jung In-sung, the president of the Korea Hana Foundation, said in a recent interview with South Korean news agency Yonhap that the people of the South should do more to welcome defectors and accept them as “ordinary neighbors” without prejudice.


Jung told the news agency that support has previously tended to focus on efforts to help defectors achieve “economic self-reliance,” but that needs to be expanded so that newcomers can “be completely included and united in our society.”


Education is one area where South Korea is tackling this. “Defectors are given a place if they want to go to university after arriving in the South, but many find it difficult to catch up because it is very different to what they studied in the North,” the FSI’s Lee said.


FSI set up with a specific goal of helping North Korean defectors learn English, a language they find “particularly hard,” Lee added.


The nonprofit has to date assisted more than 450 defectors to improve their English skills and find work.


Photo credits: Song Kyung-Seok/dpa/picture-alliance


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NORTH KOREA: USCIRF releases new report on religious freedom in North Korea

USCIRF releases new report on religious freedom in North Korea


By Dr. Zsuzsa-Anna Ferenczy, consultant for Human Rights Without Frontiers


HRWF (19.08.2021) – On August 18, in the framework of an online event, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its new report on religious freedom in North Korea. The report, entitled “Organized Persecution. Documenting Religious Freedom Violations in North Korea” reveals the North Korean government’s religious freedom violations based on primary information gathered over the past year from in-person interviews with North Korean defectors who are survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators of these violations.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). USCIRF uses international standards to monitor violations of religious freedom or belief abroad and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.

In the online discussion, USCIRF Commissioners Frederick A. Davie and James W. Carr, as well as Investigator Inje Hwang joined the authors of the report, Korea Future’s Chief Strategy Officer James Burt and Co-Director Suyeon Yoo. Elizabeth Cassidy, USCIRF Director of Research and Policy moderated the event.

The report assesses the organizational structure of religious freedom violations in North Korea; the associated methods of enforcing compliance; and specific forms of violations, torture, and mistreatment experienced by religion and belief adherents. It finds that the North Korean government’s policy of absolute denial of religious freedom has led to systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of this right.

“Religious freedom is non-existent in North Korea”, Commissioner Frederick A. Davie noted in his opening remarks. Considering that religious freedom conditions remain poorly understood and underreported, the report should help facilitate efforts to hold government accountable and bring justice, he stressed. Given that the report provides a comprehensive overview of the ongoing systematic violations in the country, Commissioner James W. Carr suggested that all those concerned about freedom of religion should read the report.

In the same spirit, Suyeon Yoo highlighted that religious persecution in North Korea happens in defence of an ideology to sustain the leadership. While until 1940 there were thriving religious communities in the country, this is no longer the case; Christians are subjected to persecution in a system that is controlled by Kim Jong-un at the top of the chain of command. Below are the Organization and Guidance Department, which exerts control over the Ministry of State Security responsible for the persecution of Christians, and the Ministry of People’s Security responsible for those adhering to Shamanism.

Loyalty and unconditional obedience to the supreme leader is the rationale to all state persecution. In schools, children are taught that Christian missionaries are murderous, malicious spies of the west. This continues through high-school and higher education, leading to the systematic denial of freedom of religion.

For the international community and those who want to protect freedom of religion in North Korea, the evidence revealed by the report shows that justice is possible as long as there is enough political will to make it happen, Suyeon Yoo stressed.

Investigator Inje Hwang, who worked directly with the interviewees, explained that all North Koreans receive ideological propaganda. Indoctrination efforts target Christians for the ties that link Christianity with Europe and the United States, which makes it one of the most persecuted religions in the country. Since Kim Jong-un came to power, there is also an increase in the crackdown on those adhering to Shamanism, following guidance from the top leadership. Individuals who want to manifest their faith are often beaten to death. Similarly, those found in possession of the Bible are subjected to further violence, detained in solitary confinement and beaten.

Concerning accountability options for religious violations, James Burt stressed that we should not forget that North Korea is a country where international law has been violated for decades. This makes the pursuit of accountability a challenge. It is both about the process and the end goal, about upholding international law at every point, and it is not directed against North Korea.

In terms of accountability, the most achievable option is targeted human rights sanctions against persons and entities responsible for crimes. There is a precedent for such sanctions in the United States (2016 and 2017), as well as in the EU and the UK. While the International Criminal Court remains another option for accountability, a Russian and Chinese veto can block the process. Therefore, an ad hoc international tribunal, as was in the case of Yugoslavia or Rwanda, would be more effective.

Finally, there are other alternatives, namely the continued documentation of crimes and the preservation of evidence, through for example NGOs, or the Special Rapporteur for North Korea. “To state the obvious, there can be no legal accountability without evidence”, Burt stressed.

“Collectively, the international community has tools to hold the North Korean government to account.” Burt concluded by urging all members of the international community to build political will and create momentum and help with documenting evidence.


For interviews, contact zsuzsaaferenczy@gmail.com

Photo: asialyst.com

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NORTH KOREA: Only two defections from the North between April and June

Only two defections from the North between April and June

Due to the pandemic and restrictions on cross-border movements, this is the lowest number since 2003. In South Korea, infections are on the rise. The Prime Minister has called for group gatherings to be limited to fewer than four people, including in areas around the capital.


Asia News (07.016.2021) – https://bit.ly/3rdhZoV – Only two North Korean defectors arrived in South Korea in the second quarter of the year, the South Korean Unification Minister announced today, specifying that it is the lowest number since 2003, when the Seoul government began compiling data on those fleeing the North’s regime.


The number has fallen dramatically due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent tightening of restrictions on cross-border movements: last year there were 135 defectors in the first quarter and only 12 in the period between April and June, while in the last two quarters respectively 48 and 34 North Koreans had crossed the 38th parallel. Before the health crisis, an average of more than a thousand people a year fled to the South.


Today, the number of new cases of Covid-19 in Seoul has fallen to less than 1,600, but the authorities fear that it could rise again in the run-up to the summer holidays. Level 4 social distancing, the highest level, has been imposed on the capital since 12 July. Only yesterday, measures to contain contagion were also applied in other regions after cases of the coronavirus increased in the non-metropolitan area.


To avoid confusion and a new spread of the Delta variant of the virus, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum asked local governments to limit group gatherings to less than four people in all regions.


Photo credits: Asia News

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NORTH KOREA to replace 10,000 workers dispatched to China

North Korea to replace 10,000 workers dispatched to China

Many of the workers became stranded at the end of their China stint due to coronavirus and have not seen their families in years.

By Jieun Kim


Radio Free Asia (23.06.2021) – https://bit.ly/2UCub6i – North Korea is planning to repatriate 10,000 workers dispatched to earn foreign currency in China but were stranded by the coronavirus pandemic, replacing them with younger recruits, sources in China told RFA.


One of North Korea’s chief foreign currency sources is to dispatch workers overseas, then collect the lion’s share of their salaries.


North Korean labor exports were supposed to have stopped when United Nations sanctions froze the issuance of work visas and mandated the repatriation of North Korean nationals working abroad by the end of 2019.


The sanctions are aimed at depriving Pyongyang of cash to fund its prohibited nuclear weapons and missile programs.


Though many North Koreans returned home prior to the deadline, some were allowed to remain until their three-year visas were to expire in early 2020.


But in January 2020, Pyongyang and Beijing closed the Sino-Korean border to stop the spread of coronavirus, making a return home impossible.


“The North Korean workers here in Dandong are expected to be replaced soon. An acquaintance of mine who works for a company that employs North Koreans confirmed that some of the workers are cycling out,” a Chinese citizen of Korean descent, from the Chinese border city that lies across the Yalu River from North Korea’s Sinuiju, told RFA’s Korean Service June 20.


“The North Korean authorities will select about 10,000 workers from among those who have been waiting to go home for a long time but were stranded here due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.


According to the source, most of the workers who will be replaced are married women in their 40s who have not seen their families in North Korea since they left before the pandemic. Others who are being swapped out include workers of retirement age.


“The workers on the withdrawal list were scheduled to return home after their three-year visa expired at the end of 2019. But due to the sudden onset of the pandemic, they have been stuck in China and unable to find suitable employment. They have been working in whatever industry, doing whatever job they could find,” the source said.


“Meanwhile, the companies that hire North Koreans wanted to replace these workers due to various problems, but replacement was held up when the border closed. But earlier this month the North Korean embassy in Beijing ordered HR companies to come up with a list of 10,000 workers to send back,” said the source.


Some of these workers arrived in China as early as 2016, so they have been away from their families for more than five years, according to the source. Others reached retirement age while they were stranded in China.


“They were actually paid only 300 yuan (U.S. $46) of the 2000 yuan ($308) monthly wage paid out by the Chinese companies under contract. But even this money was not given to them and only recorded in the books of the North Korean HR company. The HR company promised to pay the entirety of their owed balance when they return home, but we’ll have to wait and see if that happens,” said the source.


A lump sum payment for three years of work should amount to 10,800 yuan ($1,666) that the HR companies would owe each worker, or about 108 million yuan ($16.6 million).


Though the workers are only getting 20 percent of what they earned, with the rest going to the government, they are still receiving about 70  times the North Korean monthly government salary, which according to the South Korea-based Korea Joongang Daily newspaper amounted to about 4,000 won ($0.66) in 2018.


Another source, also from Dandong, confirmed to RFA June 21 that he heard news that North Korea would send 10,000 younger workers to replace the returning ones.


“The North Korean workers on the withdrawal list are expected to return home through Dandong Customs soon,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.


“The workers welcome the return measures. Because of the closed border, many have been living here without knowing how their families are doing back in North Korea,” the second source said.


How they will return home—whether by train, bus or on foot—is unknown, according to the second source.


“Even in the midst of the international sanctions on North Korea, the 10,000 among the many tens of thousands of North Korean workers who are still earning foreign currency in the Dandong area will be replaced,” the second source said.


“Their entry into North Korea will be of great interest.”


The 10,000 workers who will return to North Korea have already been vaccinated against COVID-19 and will be authorized for return only after testing negative for the virus, the second source said.


About 30,000 North Korean workers in Dandong are employed in industries including textiles, electronics, accessories, and quarantine products manufacturing, as well as seafood processing and agriculture.


Though sanctions prohibit North Korea from sending workers overseas and preclude countries from issuing work visas to North Koreans, Pyongyang has been known to dispatch workers to China and Russia on short-term student or visitor visas to get around sanctions.


Photo credits: RFA

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