Christian activists in South Korea say a pastor secretly working with North Korean defectors was “murdered” by Pyongyang’s state agents, demanding the Chinese government find those responsible for his death. They suspect North Korean agents crossed the border into China to commit the crime.
“We received news the pastor had been murdered,” a group of Christian faith workers told the South Korean news agency Yonhap, according to UPI, emphasizing that the man had received death threats for professing the Christian faith within North Korea’s borders in the past. The man has been identified only by the last name “Han.”
“The Chinese authorities are not regarding this case as a mere homicide and are undertaking the investigation with considerable seriousness,” UPI quote’s Han’s Christian group as saying.
The UPI report identifies Han as still missing, but Yonhap reports his body was found on Saturday on the Chinese side of the border in Jilin province. Yonhap also claims evidence for the number of people involved in his death being three North Korean agents.
“The priest has long supported North Korean defectors. North Korea seems to judge that his church is being used as a hideout for such North Koreans,” Choi Sung-yong, a representative for South Koreans abducted by Pyongyang’s agents, tells Yonhap. He warns that Han will likely not be the last Christian practicing on the Chinese-North Korean border to be killed, as Pyongyang appears to be cracking down on Christian activity at the border.
At least one other Christian missionary remains missing, identified by Yonhap only as “Kim.” A U.S. citizen named Kim Dong Chul was recently sentenced to ten years hard labor in North Korea for alleged “espionage,” though it has not been confirmed whether he is the same Kim identified in the Yonhap report. “The accused confessed to all crimes he had committed and gathered and offered information on its party, state and military affairs to the South Korean puppet regime, which are tantamount to state subversive plots and espionage,” North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said of Kim.
North Korea’s government has a long history of persecuting Christians that has continued well into 2016. In March 2015, a Canadian pastor named Lim Hyeon-soo was arrested on unspecified charges. Last January, he made his first public appearance in CNN interview, which confirmed that he had been issued a life sentence in a labor camp. He told CNN his only request of the government has been a Bible, which has not been provided. He identified his crime as “speaking badly about the supreme leaders of this country.”
In 2014, reports surfaced out of the hermit nation that dictator Kim Jong-un had ordered the execution of 33 people suspected of working with South Korean Baptist groups. North Korean officials allegedly believed the group was successful in creating 500 underground churches.
Before the younger Kim’s tenure, rumors abounded of gruesome execution methods used against Christians under Kim Jong-il, including the use of steamrollers to crush them to death.
Not all Christian victims of the North Korean regime are kept captive their whole lives. U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae was released last year after international pressure forced Pyongyang to reconsider his sentence. Bae served two years in a labor camp and is now how in the United States. His crime was alleged conspiracy against the North Korean government while working as a tour operator, open about his Christian faith. He credits Christianity with surviving his ordeal and says of his new book, Not Forgotten, that “One thing I want people to take away from reading the book is God’s faithfulness. After I was released, I was reminded that God has not forgotten the people of North Korea.”