WASHINGTON, May 6 (UPI) -- (Readers should be aware the following story contains graphic accounts that they may find offensive.)
The martyrdom of Christians in North Korea seems to be escalating as the crisis of the Stalinist-run country gets worse, United Press International learned Tuesday.
Chinese authorities have rounded up and repatriated North Korean Christians who had sought refuge and been catechized on Chinese territory. "We have reports that these refugees had wires driven through their wrists and noses. By these wires they were led back into North Korea," said Thomas White, head of the U.S. section of the Voice of the Martyrs organization.
Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, a Washington-based advocacy group, told UPI that this forced repatriation was due to the worldwide attention North Korean escapees on the Chinese side of the border had received in the last few months.
"China evidently felt it lost face," he suggested, "hence the crackdown."
But White reported that clandestine Bible schools for Koreans still appeared to be in operation in Chinese caves. "Amazingly, some of their graduates then went back to their country to spread the message of hope."
White, King and other sources interviewed by UPI agreed that whether these Christians were forced to return or did so voluntarily, they faced a dire fate.
What Christian organizations such as VOM and ICC had been saying for years was confirmed last year by an eyewitness testimony before Congress: hundreds of thousands of political prisoners are unspeakably mistreated in North Korea's gulags. But the worst tortures are meted out to Christians.
Soon Ok Lee, once a senior cadre of the ruling communist party, testified that while she was in the Kaechon political prison camp, she observed the atrocious execution of five or six elderly Christians who refused to give up their belief in Christ.
Their slaughter occurred at a cast-iron factory that was part of the prison compound. The Christians were lined up and told to renounce their faith and accept instead the North Korean ideology of Juche (self-reliance).
"The selected prisoners all remained silent at the repeated command of conversion. The security officers ... killed them by pouring molten iron on them one by one," related Soon.
Soon also reported that the bodies of hundreds of prisoners served as fertilizer for orchards that produced especially large and sweet apples, pears, peaches and plums reserved for senior party and police officials. She herself was there when 150 prisoners were buried under these trees.
She said that in the meantime, prisoners were kept starving to such a degree that they ate the raw flesh of rats they had caught coming out of their latrine holes. She described special punishment cells, 24 inches wide and 44 inches high, where people were confined for seven to 10 days, without being able to stand up straight, or sit or lie down.
Such confinement was the penalty for "offenses such as leaving an oily mark on clothes, failing to memorize the president's New Year message or repeated failure to meet work quotas."
"When the prisoners are released from the cells, their legs are badly bent, with frostbite in the winter, and so they can hardly work," Soon went on. "Many victims are permanently crippled from lack of adequate exercise and eventually died as a result of the work resumed immediately after the lease."
It is hard to disagree with U.S. President George W. Bush's assessment of North Korea as an evil place, if one reads Soon's account, much of which is too horrendous to be published. One of her most terrible recollections is about the murder of babies born to prisoners:
"In (a) medical room, I noticed six pregnant women awaiting delivery ... while I was there, three women delivered babies on the cement floor without blankets. It was horrible to watch the prison doctor kicking the pregnant women with his boots.
"When a baby was born, the doctor shouted, 'Kill it quickly. The women covered their faces with their hands and wept ... The prisoner/nurses, with trembling hands, squeezed the babies' necks to kill them. The babies, when killed, were wrapped in a dirty cloth, put into a bucket and taken outside through a backdoor."
Soon added she witnessed such scenes twice while in prison. "In my nightmares, I still see the mothers weeping for their babies."
Soon, the daughter and wife of senior Communist functionaries, was released after seven years. As she said, she could have returned to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, and led a quiet life there.
But she was determined to tell the world what she had seen. She fled to South Korea, risking recapture, torture and death.
Soon became a Christian.