North Korean Christians

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: Context ahead of the historic summit in Singapore.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today President Trump is meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. We know the rogue country’s unapproved nuclear program is at the top of the agenda, but human rights? Not so much.

EICHER: North Korea has a long and sordid history of human rights violations. Among them is the lack of freedom to worship the Creator and live according to one’s conscience.

Each year Open Doors USA publishes its World Watch List. It ranks the top 50 most dangerous places on earth to be a practicing Christian. This is the 17th year of the Open Doors list and all 17 years North Korea has topped the dubious rankings.

REICHARD: Here to discuss the situation in North Korea is David Curry. He’s the president and CEO of Open Doors USA, and he’s on the line from Singapore.

David, what do we know about Christians in North Korea?

DAVID CURRY, GUEST: Well, what we know is they’re considered the No. 1 hostile class by a regime that considers many people, up to a third of their population, a hostile class. And that is because Christians are really doing several things that make it difficult for the Kim regime. First of all, they don’t want to worship the regime, which is prescribed by the police services there, and they enforce it. There’s an indoctrination process that Christians obviously would not want to go through. So you have a lot of these kinds of things which have made Christians a very hostile class. That means they’re often put in prison for owning Bibles, for talking about their faith. There could be—we estimate somewhere between 50 and 80,000 Christians in labor camps, long-term labor camps that are scattered throughout the country, so it’s very difficult situations for Christians in North Korea.

Have you any eyewitness story of what happens to an individual rounded up by the North Korean regime for being a Christian?

CURRY: What we often hear is from people who are arrested, taken to labor camps, who will have everything taken from them, their livelihoods will be stripped from them. This is not an uncommon thing in North Korea for a Christian. And that’s considering the fact that it’s very difficult human rights conditions for many people in North Korea, but yet even still, Christians stand out amongst that very persecuted group.

What do we know about life for North Koreans outside of work camps? You’d written about life inside work camps for people accused of being Christian or caught being Christian. What do we know about just regular life outside of those camps?

CURRY: What we know is there are at least three divisions—some people would say five—within society. There’s a core group of people who would be close to the regime, people who are in the military system, and they’ll be sort of a middle class of sorts. And then there’s the hostile class, which could be seen, as I said, up to 27 percent or so of the population. So it varies depending on the class. Certainly people who have access to military hierarchies would live better within North Korea than others. This has been going on since the late 40s. So it’s a old school communistic, post-communism system. It is very reminiscent of the old Soviet Union in the way they set up neighborhood watches. You can get more food or money if you’re a neighborhood watch person and you tell the regime that somebody seems to be having a Bible study or you’ve heard that they have a Bible. That sort of thing. That’s how often people are found out. For that reason, Christians often hesitate to tell their children, young children that they are Christians right away because the children will be—at least attempted to be bribed with food and other advantages if they can report to their teachers that a parent has a Bible. We had several people that we know who have been caught that way. A teacher would say, “Hey, does anybody want to talk about whether your parent has a Bible? We could give you some more food.” And in a hunger environment, a system that often has extreme hunger, that’s a very tempting thing for a small child. So it’s a very strange universe for us to understand here in the West, but it’s unfortunately a very real situation for those people in North Korea.

What do you hope comes out of this meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un?

CURRY: We’re hopeful that human rights will be part of the discussion in the long-term certainly because it’s hard to imagine a scenario whereby North Korea could try to come into the international community just through denuclearization. This is a totally closed society for us to even monitor the nuclear situation. It has to be an assumption that the scientists and those folks who are near that kind of a program could have some transparency, that they wouldn’t go to a labor camp if they talked about what was really happening, these kinds of things. So the human rights is fundamental to a good denuclearization program. So we’re hopeful that it’s happening. We want to see the talk of denuclearizing the North Korean peninsula, but we need to talk about human rights. It’s the key fundamental hinge on which North Korea could come back into the international community.

David Curry is President of Open Doors USA working to help Christians living in dangerous situations. Christians are one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world today. David, thank you for talking to us today.

CURRY: Thanks so much for having me on.

(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP) In this Sunday, June 10, 2018, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, prepares to leave for Singapore, at Pyongyang international airport in Pyongyang, North Korea.

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