‘Pinpricks’ of Truth Making Way into North Korea

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Sarah Page

‘Pinpricks’ of Truth Making Way into North Korea

As refugees
from North Korea and activists from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gather
in Seoul, South Korea, this week to highlight human rights violations in the
hermit kingdom, there are signs that North Korean citizens are accessing more
truth than was previously thought.

A recent survey by the
Peterson Institute found that a startling 60 percent of North Koreans now have
access to information outside of government propaganda.

“North Koreans are
increasingly finding out that their misery is a direct result of the Kim Jong-Il
regime, not South Korea and America as we were brainwashed from birth to
believe,” Kim Seung Min of Free North Korea Radio said in a press statement. The
radio station is a partner in the North Korea Freedom Coalition (NKFC), which is
holding its annual North Korea Freedom Week (NKFW) in Seoul rather than
Washington, D.C., for the first time in the seven-year history of the

“We set out to double
the radio listenership of 8 percent or 9 percent, and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in
the number of people who have access to information,” said NKFC co-chair Suzanne
Scholte. She described the flow of information as “pinpricks in a dark veil over
North Korea. Now those pinpricks are becoming huge holes.”

The radio station now air-drops radios
into North Korea and broadcasts into the country for five hours a day, adding to
information gleaned by refugees and merchants who cross the border regularly to
buy Chinese goods.

(Read “China Complicit in Suffering of North Korean Refugees”)

In recent years the
government has been forced to allow a limited market economy, but trade has
brought with it illegal technology such as VCR machines, televisions, radios and
cell phones that can detect signals from across the border. Previously all
televisions and radios available in North Korea could only receive official

“The government hasn’t
been able to stamp out the markets, so they begrudgingly allow them to
continue,” Scholte confirmed. “This means North Koreans aren’t relying solely on
the regime anymore.”

Holding the annual
event in Seoul this year sends a significant message, Scholte told

“This is a spiritual
conflict as well as a physical one – some people didn’t want us to call it
freedom week,” she said. “But we’re making a statement … God gives us freedom by
the very nature of being human and North Koreans are entitled to that

All people say they
would never allow the World War II holocaust to be repeated, Scholte said, “but
this is a holocaust, a genocide. I firmly believe we will be judged if we fail
to intervene.”

The coalition hopes
this week’s event will empower the 17,000 strong North Korean defectors in South
Korea, awaken the consciousness of the world about human rights conditions in
North Korea, and inform all who are suffering in North Korea that others will
“work together until the day their freedom, human rights and dignity are
realized,” Scholte said in the press statement.

As part of the week’s
activities, the coalition will send leaflets into North Korea via balloon
stating in part, “In the same year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was
passed, Kim Il-Sung was ensuring that you wouldn’t have any of those

Religious freedom in
particular is almost non-existent. The only accepted belief
Juche – an ideology
that strictly enforces worship of the country’s leaders.

“The regime is a
perversion of Christianity,” Scholte told Compass.

has a holy trinity just as Christianity does, with
Father Kim Il-Sung, son Kim Jong-Il, and the spirit of

said to give strength to the people.

“Kim Il-Sung is God; a
real God can’t replace him,” a former North Korean security agent confirmed in
David Hawke’s 2005 report, “A Prison Without Bars.”

While four churches
exist in the capital, Pyongyang, experts believe these are largely showpieces
for foreign visitors.

The government has
allowed token visits from high-profile foreign Christians such as Franklin
Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who preached at
Bongsu Protestant church in Pyongyang in August 2008; and two U.S. Christian
bands, Casting Crowns and Annie Moses, attended and won awards at the Spring
Friendship Arts Festival in April 2009.

Worship outside limited
official venues is simply not tolerated, giving North Korea first place on
Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2010 World Watch List for persecution
of Christians.

Ordinary citizens
caught with a Bible or in a clandestine prayer meeting are immediately labeled
members of the hostile class and either executed or placed in prison labor
camps, along with three generations of their immediate family. Every North
Korean belongs to either the “hostile,” “wavering” or “core” class, affecting
privileges from food and housing to education and physical freedom, according to
Hawke’s report.

There are no churches
outside the capital, but the regime in 2001 estimated there were 12,000
Protestants and 800 Catholics in North Korea. In July 2002 the government also
reported the existence of 500 vaguely-defined “family worship centers” catering
to a population of approximately 22.7 million, according to a September 2009
International Religious Freedom report issued by the U.S. State Department.

By contrast, South
Dong-A Ilbo newspaper in July 2009 put the estimate at 30,000
Christians, some NGOs and academics estimate there may be up to several hundred
thousand underground Christians.


As North Korea celebrated the birthday
of Kim Jong-Il on Feb. 16, rumors spread that the elderly leader, currently
battling heart problems, had chosen third son Kim Jong-Eun as his

Documents extolling the
virtues of Kim Jong-Eun began circulating as early as November, according to the
Daily NK online news agency. An official “education” campaign for elite
officials began in January and was extended to lesser officials in March. One
document obtained by the agency described the “Youth Captain” as being “the
embodiment of Kim Il-Sung’s appearance and ideology.”

“Kim picked this son
because he’s ruthless and evil,” Scholte said, “but I don’t think they’re quite
ready to hand over to him yet. There is an uncertainty, a vulnerability.”

Scholte believes this
is the ideal time to “reach out, get information in there and push every
possible way.”

“There are many
double-thinkers among the elite,” she explained. “They know the regime is wrong,
but they have the Mercedes, the education for their kids and so on, so they have
no incentive to leave.”

The coalition is trying
to persuade South Korea to establish a criminal tribunal, she said.

“North Koreans are
actually citizens of South Korea by law,” she said. “We have to let these guys
know there’s going to be a reckoning, to create a good reason for them not to
cooperate [with authorities].”

Those in other
countries have an obligation too, Scholte concluded. “When people walk out of
the camps, it will haunt us. They’ll want to know, ‘What were you doing?’
will be held

Article 26 of North
Korea’s constitution declares that the people have freedom of religion. The
organizers of this year’s freedom week fervently hope that this declaration will
soon become a reality.

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