WOMAN RISKS LIFE TO CONVERT NORTH KOREANS TRAPPED IN LABOR CAMPS
A North Korean defector has recalled her harrowing experience of spending time in one of the communist nation’s notorious labour camps. Despite her horrific ordeal, she ended up coming to Jesus during her period of incarceration. Esther, who has had her name changed for security reasons, told Open Doors that she and the other inmates were “treated like animals” and that there were 40 of them crammed into a two-by-two cell. Despite the dire situation, Esther said she was profoundly impacted by a Christian woman who somehow held onto her faith through the horrific treatment they endured. “At one point, I gave her a little push and asked her ‘Hey, what’s going on with you? Why are you so calm?'”
“She answered ‘When I was in China, God treated me like a princess.'” “She was a fragile, old lady. Why would anyone treat her like a princess? I mocked her, ‘Okay, I want to be a princess too.'” “‘Alright,’ she said. ‘Just pray like me’. I played along. So she went ‘Thank you, God, for everything. Do what you wish. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.'” Esther admitted that she was baffled by how this faith-filled woman was able to thank God while being confined to a North Korean prison, but she reluctantly prayed along. The woman, nicknamed “God’s Princess” was able to share the gospel with everyone in the cells. It wasn’t long before she was released from the prison, something that very rarely occurs.
Then, just 3 days after Esther prayed, the detention centre also allowed her to leave. Esther escaped back to China and immediately attended a Bible study. She said she was fully transformed by the love of God and gave her life to Christ. She said: “I read about Moses and God’s ten plagues he poured out over Egypt. And I knew from experience that those plagues can be very real. I started to experience the living God. Of course, I believed in Christ and I confessed my sins.” Esther was convinced that she was the first person in her entire family to become a follower of Jesus. But then God revealed to her in a dream, her grandfather had been praying that she would come to faith for a number of years.
“Following Christ in North Korea is done in the utmost secret,” she explained. “My grandfather never shared the gospel with me.” “He is still alive, which is why I cannot share details about him,” Esther explained. Esther now resides in South Korea and has been able to reconnect with some of her family. However, she is still separated from her daughter, who remains in the North. “God has done many miracles, but I’m still asking for a few more, first, that my children will come to South Korea, and second, that I’ll be able to share the gospel with them so that they will also become followers of Christ,” she said.
Despite North Korea being ranked as the most dangerous place in the world to be a practicing Christian, it is estimated that there are between 200,000 and 400,000 believers currently living in the communist nation. Many of these are confined to labour camps or are forced to worship in highly secretive “underground” Churches. The situation in Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian nation is detailed on Open Doors website: “Due to constant indoctrination, neighbours and family members, including children, are highly watchful and report anything suspicious to the authorities. If Christians are discovered, they are deported to labour camps as political criminals or killed on the spot; their families share their fate.
Meeting for worship is almost impossible, so is done in utmost secrecy. The churches shown to visitors in Pyongyang serve mere propaganda purposes,” the website reads. Every day was as if God was pouring out all ten plagues on us simultaneously. That’s how hard it was. But God also comforted me and brought a secret fellowship into existence. Every Sunday we would gather in the toilets and pray,” former Christian labor camp captive Hea-Woo told Open Doors. She was able to escape, but most are not so lucky. Open Doors estimates that somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 Christian are imprisoned in these camps. Most will die there.
Open Doors also offers some key prayer points for this oppressed country and its persecuted Christian community:
* For God to comfort and strengthen His followers, especially those who suffer in prisons, labour camps and remote areas.
* That God would speak to Kim Jong-Un, giving him a revelation of Jesus, the servant king.
* That the power of evil in this nation will be broken and its people healed and restored. Testimonies such as the one detailed in this article are all too common, Christians assigned a brutal sentence of a “life of labour” in one of these savage camps, only to find the hope of Christ in the midst of their seemingly hopeless circumstances.
NORTH KOREA: CHANGE AMONG CITIZENS BUT REGIME’S CRIMES CONTINUE
A new report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) on the human rights situation in North Korea has found that in the past decade, ‘the regime has not changed but the people have.’ In order to find new and effective ways of addressing the human rights situation in North Korea, stakeholders must understand these changes, and work together with North Koreans outside the country to bring about a brighter future. The report, “Movies, Markets and Mass Surveillance: Human Rights in North Korea after a Decade of Change”, was launched in the UK parliament on 5 February at an event hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on North Korea and chaired by APPG co-chair Fiona Bruce MP.
Speakers included APPG co-chair Lord Alton, Jieun Baek, author of ‘North Korea’s Hidden Revolution’, and CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers. The new report was published ten years after CSW’s ground-breaking report, North Korea: A Case to Answer, A Call to Act, which was one of the first to call on the United Nations to establish a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate alleged crimes against humanity in North Korea. In 2013, the UN Human Rights Council established the COI on North Korea, which in 2014 produced a report which concluded that the ‘gravity, scale and nature’ of the violations of human rights in North Korea ‘reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the modern world.’
CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers noted the increasing availability of movies and other media in North Korea, and a growing sense of dissent among citizens, stating: “Unless we understand what is happening inside the country, we cannot be equipped to meet its challenges.” However, he and the other speakers stressed that the human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime are ongoing. In terms of the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief in particular, there is absolutely no change and any sign of any belief other than total devotion to the Kim family is severely punished.
Lord Alton said: “There are 30 Articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s hard to think of any that are not being violated in North Korea.” Jieun Baek stressed the importance of CSW’s report in helping to change the image of North Korea and “shift agency to North Korean citizens as agents of survival and change.” Benedict Rogers noted that “four years after the publication of the COI report, few of its recommendations have been implemented” and called on campaigners to engage with the North Korean people and advocate for the full implementation of the COI’s recommendations.
The research in CSW’s new report is based on information directly provided to the organisation by over 100 respondents; including North Korean escapees, the UN office in Seoul, organisations run by North Korean escapees, South Korean officials and experts, academics, journalists, and South Korean international human rights organisations and faith-based organisations. It examines changes in economic modes of survival, information flows from outside North Korea, defection patterns, freedom of expression and criticism of the state, and changes in human rights in law and practice. Researchers found that as a result of these changes, the motivation for defection has changed.
One escapee told CSW, “In the beginning, people defected because they were starving. They went to China to find food. But it is different now. For example, I was doing ok in North Korea. I could live. But more and more people want freedom, opportunities and hope.” There is also anecdotal evidence that although the human rights situation remains one of the worst in the world, international condemnation and the COI investigation are having an effect on the regime. Rogers added: “In a place of total darkness any flicker of hope is something we should build on. If an international inquiry had any effect on restraining conduct, we should take encouragement.”
MISSISSIPPI STATE HOUSE VOTES TO BAN ABORTION AFTER 15 WEEKS
A bill banning abortion on babies more than 15 weeks old has passed the Mississippi state House 79-31. House Bill 1510 would make Mississippi the state with the most pro-life laws if it passes the Senate and the governor signs it. Rep. Becky Currie, was the principal author of the bill, called the Gestational Age Act. HB 1510 does not allow babies conceived in rape or incest to be aborted after 15 weeks. “The rest of the world understands the health risks entailed by late-term abortions that occur after the first trimester,” Dr. Jameson Taylor, acting president of the Mississippi Centre for Public Policy, said. “This is a commonsense approach to protecting maternal health and protecting the life of the unborn.”
“HB 1510 is supported by faith-based and pro-life organizations across the state,” said Taylor. “Recent polling (January 2018) indicates the vast majority (76%) of voters support commonsense laws regarding abortion, with a limit after the first trimester being one of the preferred options.” The bill notes that the hearts of pre-born babies can be measured around six or seven weeks. “An unborn human being begins to move about in the womb at approximately eight (8) weeks’ gestation,” the bill says. “At nine (9) weeks’ gestation, all basic physiological functions are present. Teeth and eyes are present, as well as external genitalia.”
“An unborn baby’s vital organs begin to function at ten weeks’ gestation,” it continues. “Hair, fingernails, and toenails also begin to form. At eleven weeks’ gestation, the baby’s diaphragm is developing, and he or she may even hiccup. He or she is beginning to move about freely in the womb.” “At twelve weeks’ gestation, an unborn human being can open and close his or her fingers, starts to make sucking motions, and senses stimulation from the world outside the womb,” the Gestational Age Act says. “Importantly, he or she has taken on ‘the human form in all relevant aspects,'” referencing the Supreme Court case which banned partial-birth abortion because it is too close to infanticide.
At 15 weeks, a pre-born baby is the size of a navel orange. “The majority of abortion procedures performed after fifteen weeks’ gestation are involve the use of surgical instruments to dismember the unborn child before removing the pieces of the dead child from the womb,” the Act explains. “The Legislature finds that the intentional commitment of such acts for nontherapeutic or elective reasons is a barbaric practice, dangerous for the patient, and demeaning to the medical profession.” Father Terry Gensemer of CEC for Life said the bill passing the House is “encouraging news” and shows the importance of appointing reasonable judges at every level of the courts. This “cannot be overlooked,” he said.
Gensemer praised the legislators in his neighbouring state for their willingness “to say, ‘we want less abortions, we want to protect more children.'” “The abortion lobby is saying, ‘no, we want to kill more children and we really wanna kill ’em until they’re born,'” he said. “Our hopes are for a bill whose time has come,” Terri Herring, a Mississippi pro-life lobbyist since 1986, told LifeSiteNews. “There is a strong international standard that bans abortion after the first trimester. America is long over-due for rethinking laws restricting abortion. There is nothing healthy about abortion.” “We have seen most of our laws eventually upheld in the courts,” said Herring.
UK JUDGE RULES AGAINST CHRISTIAN TEACHER SACKED FOR SAYING “GOD LOVES YOU”
An Employment Tribunal has dismissed a discrimination claim by a Christian teacher sacked for answering students’ questions about her beliefs. Svetlana Powell was dismissed in Bristol in July 2016 after being asked by students about her views on homosexuality. According to Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Powell, she was also reported as a “radicalisation threat” to the government’s anti-terrorist watchdog. In reply to a question by a student, Mrs Powell said that her personal belief was that homosexuality was against God’s will, but that he loved every person, regardless of what they did, or who they were. When told that one of the students was a lesbian, Mrs Powell said: “God loves you”.
Two days later she was fired for “gross misconduct.” The Academy’s Chief Safeguarding Officer, Sian Prigg, told the Tribunal that after a group of students complained that they were “brainwashed and preached to”, she decided to contact the government’s ‘counter-terrorism’ group to report the incident. Mrs Powell said she did not know of being reported until she brought a legal claim against the Academy and read Mrs Prigg’s witness statement for the Tribunal. Judge Maxwell ruled that the Academy did not discriminate against Mrs Powell because of her religious beliefs but “because she expressed personal religious views”. Mrs Powell is considering appealing the ruling.
U.N. DEMANDS IRAN’S ISLAMIC REGIME GIVE CHRISTIANS A FAIR TRIAL
Four U.N. human rights experts have issued a statement, urging Iran to ensure “a fair and transparent final hearing” at the country’s Revolutionary Court for three Iranian Christians who have been sentenced for “conducting evangelism” and “illegal house church activities.” The U.N. special rapporteurs on the human rights situation in Iran have expressed their concerns over last year’s sentencing of a former Assyrian Pentecostal Church leader in Iran, and two other house church Christians, to between 10 and 15 years in prison for various charges. The Court was due to hear the case recently but it is not known if the court ended the case, confirmed the sentences, or referred it to the Supreme Court.
The U.N. experts said the charges and sentences were “completely contrary” to Iran’s obligations under international law. “We are additionally concerned about the lack of health care made available to them while in detention and, in particular, about the current health condition of Mr. Asgari, who remains in prison.” They noted, “Members of the Christian minority in Iran, particularly those who have converted to the faith, are facing severe discrimination and religious persecution.” The independent U.N. experts urged “the government to immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been arrested and detained for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.”
WIFE OF IRANIAN CHURCH LEADER IMPRISONED FOR PRAYING WITH CHRISTIANS
Shamiram Isavi, the wife of Pastor Tamraz, was earlier this year sentenced to five years in prison, allegedly for endangering national security. “As far as we know, and based on Mrs. Isavi’s own statements, no evidence has been presented in the case to show that she was engaged in spying or disturbing national security. She has denied all the charges,” Kiarash Alipour, a spokesman for Article 18, a U.K.-based organization focusing on Christians in Iran, told the Centre for Human Rights in Iran. “Mrs. Isavi explained during the interrogation that when the Assyrian Pentecostal Church was shut down, she attended home churches and prayed with fellow Christians and discussed the Holy Book,” Alipour said.
“It’s astonishing that a country’s national security could be threatened by a gathering of Christian believers.” Officials claimed that Isavi was “acting against national security” through her efforts in organizing house churches, which is not allowed in Iran, as well as attending Christian seminars abroad. Tamraz was arrested with Isavi and their son, Ramin, along with 12 other Christian converts, in December 2014 in Tehran. In November, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams called on Christian leaders to intervene for the release of a British mother, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 38-year-old project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, being held in an Iranian prison.