By BosNewsLife Asia Service
PYONGYANG/SEOUL (BosNewsLife)– There was concern Tuesday, November 19, that Christians were likely among some 80 people who were recently executed by North Korean officials across the country.
Last week, a South Korean newspaper, the JoongAng Ilbo, reported that the coordinated killings of what officials considered “criminals” took place in seven different cities on November 3. Among the reasons listed by the newspaper for the executions were “watching South Korean movies and the possession of Bibles.”
International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group investigating the situation, quoted an unidentified source in the region as saying that the executions show that leader Kim Jong-un “is still trying to consolidate power”.
Referring to the mass executions the well-informed source added that “this is an indication of his failure to do so.”
“I think it is a reflection of both the stepped up crack-down that he started when he became dictator and also the fear he has of the North Korean people…the greatest threat to the regime are those who escape and tell us what is happening and those who have information from the outside world.”
The source, who was not identified for security reasons, added that “all those executed knew information from the outside and [among them] were certainly Christians.”
Communist-ruled North Korea has “always considered Christians to be their greatest threat,” the source said in remarks obtained by BosNewsLife.
North Korea is consistently cited by Christian rights groups as the world’s “worst persecutor” of Christians.
Escapees from the authoritarian nation, labeled by the regime as “defectors,” have reported that crimes as simple as Bible ownership are punished severely.
ICC said human rights organizations have established that sentences for this “crime” range from thirteen years’ imprisonment to execution.
Up to three generations of the “criminal’s” family may be sentenced to life in prison inside one of the nation’s notorious labor camps, where at least 100,000 Christians are believed to be held.
Most are said to have been detained for refusing to worship North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung’s cult and remaining faithful to their faith in Jesus Christ.
Among those held is also also American missionary Kenneth Bae who was sentenced in May to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly committing “hostile acts” against the North Korean regime.
Another American, Merrill Newman, a Korean War veteran who had long wanted to go to North Korea, has not been heard from since October 26, the day he and a traveling companion wrapped up a 10-day organized tour of North Korea.
In 2007 and 2009, unconfirmed reports from sources inside the country claimed that individuals had been publicly executed for distributing Bibles.
According to a “single unidentified” source cited by the JoongAng Ilbo, one of the recent executions took place in the port city of Wonsan.
The source said 10,000 spectators, including children, were forced to gather and watch as eight individuals, including at least one charged with possessing a Bible, were tied to posts and executed by machine gun. “I heard from the residents that they watched in terror as the corpses were (so) riddled by machine gun fire that they were hard to identify afterward,” the source said.
Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for East Asia, told BosNewsLife in a statement that his group is ” shocked and horrified to hear about the recent mass executions under Kim Jong-un’s rule.”
He said there “can be no doubt left that Kim Jong-un is bent on retaining absolute power, even if that means maintaining the genocidal legacy of his father and grandfather.”
Morgan said his team was “praying not only for the families of those Christians who were executed on November 3, but for the families of all of the victims of North Korea’s tyrannical regime.”
He also urged “the world not to forget the tens of thousands who suffer daily in utterly deplorable conditions inside North Korea’s labor camps, many simply for their religious beliefs.”