Torture, sexual violence, forced abortions are common tools to terrorize believers of both Christianity and Shamanism. Those who resist are shot.
by Daniela Bovolenta
“First, a victim is read their death sentence. Second, the victim’s head, ankles, and torso are roped to a wooden post. Third, the victim is executed by a five-person Border Security Command (BSC) firing squad who aim for the victim’s head, chest, and feet. Fourth, a ditch is dug in front of the wooden post holding the corpse to receive the victim when the ropes are cut. Fifth, a BSC Commander will order the ditch to be filled with rocks.” This happens at the border between North Korea and China, when someone is caught importing Bibles or other religious literature into Kim Jong-un’s Socialist “paradise.” In one case, a BSC officer accused of complicity with Bible smuggling was executed himself.
This is one of many incidents documented in the report on religious freedom violation in North Korea, Persecuting Faith, published by Korea Future Initiative a few weeks ago, which prompted British Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, to call this month for Magnitsky-style sanctions against the North Korean officers responsible for such atrocities.
Also, this month, the annual White Paper on Religious Freedom in North Korea from The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights was published, which confirmed that the country remains an extreme example of religious persecution.
One interesting detail mentioned in these documents is the close cooperation between North Korea and China for persecuting believers. Devotees of both Christianity and Shamanism who try to escape to China are sent back to North Korea with a “black stamp” on their documents indicating they attended religious gatherings in China. Even North Koreans who went to China for non-religious reasons, and attended government-authorized religious activities there, discovered upon their return home that such attendance had been reported from the Chinese to the North Korean State Security, and was ground for arrest.
Persecuting Faith investigated allegations that sexual violence and forced abortions against female believers are common in North Korean jails, and found them believable. The report documented 32 such incidents.
“In one case at North Hamgyong Provincial MSS [Ministry of State Security] pre-trial detention centre, a respondent recounted a particularly appalling system of abuse,” the document reports. “When a prisoner was forced into an induced abortion and gave birth to a live-born infant, MSS officers would tear a thin plastic bag and cover the infant’s face with the torn plastic. The infant would then be wrapped tightly in a cloth blanket. After a short while, the infant would suffocate and die, which was noted by officers from the changing color in the infant’s face. Bodies of dead infants were stored in a closet that was used for chlorine and maintenance tools. Later, the bodies of the infants were buried. Mothers of the aborted infants were forced to resume manual labor the day after the abortion and without medicine or rest.”
In another case, a woman was forced to undergo an abortion “following a ruling that pregnant women could not be tried at court.” She had been sent back to North Korea from China, and was detained after being suspected of attending a church. Three named MPS officers escorted the respondent to Kyongwon County Hospital. The respondent was handcuffed and injected by a named doctor. The respondent underwent an induced abortion the following day after 21-weeks of pregnancy. The infant’s head was injected, and the body placed into a plastic bag. Later, an MPS officer buried the body.” No longer pregnant, the woman could now be taken to court. In fact, she was “immediately removed from the hospital and was placed on trial three-days later.”
Female believers are often victims of rape and other forms of sexual abuse. In one case, according to the report, even a three-year-old girl, detained with her believers’ family, had her vagina and anus “examined.”
Executions of believers are public, and designed to terrorize the population. In one case from 2018, three women convicted of practicing shamanism were executed by firing squad at Hyesan City airfield. At the same location, Christians are also executed, including one whose only crime was possessing a Bible.
And in the Chongori long-term re-education camp, a prisoner did not have a Bible but confessed to having read one. The victim was forced to write a confession and was executed, while the other prisoners were forced to watch.
When democratic countries negotiate with North Korea, they cannot ignore such horrific human rights abuse vested on religious believers. Nor should China’s active cooperation with this horror be forgotten.