Christian North Koreans who have escaped the brutal regime tell of outrageous human rights abuses against anyone suspected of professing the faith, including routine beatings and rapes and specialized torture for those involved in underground prayer.
In a report Wednesday, Fox News profiled North Korean defector Choi Kwanghyuk, who was arrested after founding an underground house church. Choi escaped a labor camp shortly before he believes the regime was ready to transfer him to a concentration camp to end his life.
Before he escaped, however, he asserted that he was tortured and witnessed the torture of many others.
“I decided to escape because I thought that once they sent me to the other camp, they could eventually send me to the concentration camp or kill me,” Choi told Fox News. “I was traveling back and forth between China and North Korea, but they kept searching for me, and I knew it could put my friends in danger too, so I left.”
According to Fox, Choi witnessed a wide variety of torture:
Prisoners are forced to stand on their toes in tanks filled with water up to their noses for 24 hours, stripped and hanged upside-down while being beaten or given the infamous “pigeon torture” – where both hands are chained to a wall at a height of 2 feet, forcing them to crouch for hours at a time.
Beatings are handed out daily for offenses as simple as not bowing down in respect to the guards fast enough. Prisoners are used as practice targets during martial arts training. Guards routinely rape female inmates.
Limited access to food is also a way that the North Korean regime tortures both its prisoners and regular citizens. Another defector, identified as Grace Jo, told Fox News in a report last week that she recalled “babies and moms … dying without any hope.” Two of her brothers died of starvation, and she tells the outlet that mice were a vital source of nutrition. Her grandmother, she recalled, made mouse soup on an occasion when the family ran out of food.
Choi’s testimony also recalled the use of mice and rats as protein to survive.
His experiences in North Korea are far from unique and, unfortunately, may only become more common as studies estimate the number of Christians active in North Korea is growing. The communist Kim regime is officially atheist and bans any displays of religiosity, save for the worship of its leader, Kim Jong-un, and the Kim dynasty. Yet prior to the communist takeover, North Korea had a long history of being home to a large Christian community. Pyongyang, its capital, was once referred to as the “Jerusalem of the East,” and regime founder Kim Il-sung himself came from a Christian family.
A human rights group based in South Korea, Justice for North Korea, estimated that up to half a million North Koreans could be secretly practicing religion nationwide in a study released in March. Groups like Open Doors have documented up to 400,000 Christian believers in the country. Pastor Jeong Peter of Justice for North Korea told the South Korean outlet Yonhap at the time that “current secret religious activities are limited to groups of two or three people reading the Bible, praying and singing hymns.”
Due to the necessary secrecy of those practicing the faith, it is possible that many thousands more in the country believe in the faith and practice it out of the repressive government eye. This means that the enormous increase in documented Christians in the country – up from 37,000 in 2012, according to a Breitbart News analysis of State Department figures – may be significantly smaller than the real numbers.
“In the past, the people were told to worship the Kim family as their god, but many North Koreans no longer respect Kim Jong-Un,” an unnamed defector told The Telegraph in August. “That means they are looking for something else to sustain their faith.”