07/07/2010, 00.00
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N Korean Christian tortured to death for having Bibles at home

Son Jung-hun, a younger brother of the victim, tells the story of the victim, who fled to China and then went home after he converted to Christianity.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – A North Korean Evangelical Christian was tortured and then killed in a Pyongyang’s prison. The victim’s brother pieced the story together and made it public. In a long interview, he slams the North Korean regime, calling it “hypocritical”, trying to be above any law, be it man-made or divine. Son Jung-hun, who now lives in South Korea, became a devout Christian after his brother Son Jong-nam was sentenced to death by the world’s last Stalinist regime.

Son Jong-nam was 50 when he died. Born in Pyongyang on 11 March 1958, he spent ten years in the presidential security service, discharged as a master sergeant in 1983. As a soldier, he had dedicated his life to fighting the “American imperialists”, but in 1997, his eight-month pregnant wife was arrested for allegedly saying Kim Jong-il had ruined the economy and caused mass famine. Usually, this is enough to get someone executed.

In order to get her confession, her interrogators kicked her in the belly, causing her to miscarry. Disillusioned and scared, Son and his family fled to China in 1998. Seven months after their escape, his wife died of leukaemia.

Despite claims that it guarantees freedom of religion, the North Korean state has methodically persecuted believers of every kind. Christians are particularly singled out because they follow a religion that is deemed “Western” and somehow linked to the United States. The only form of worship allowed in the country is the cult of Dictator Kim Jong-il and his father, the “eternal president”, Kim Il-sung.

There are three churches in Pyongyang, two Protestant and one Catholic, but no clergy. For many, these buildings are but showpieces to fool the odd tourist who comes to the capital.

After the civil war ended in an armistice in 1953, the Communist regime successfully eliminated all Christian believers and their pastors. Recently, sources in North Korea told AsiaNews that at best 200 original Catholics are still alive, mostly old people.

Evangelising in such a place is nigh impossible. Some Christian groups have tried to use North Korean refugees for that purpose. After training them, they are sent back home.

“I agonize a lot whenever I have to send defectors to the North as I know what kind of punishment they would get if arrested,” said Rev Isaac Lee, a Korean-American Evangelical missionary.

Son Jong-nam was one of those sent back. He got caught and was punished. Carrying 20 Bibles and ten cassettes, he crossed back into North Korea, where he was arrested almost right away.

Sent to a prison camp, he was tortured into confessing his “crimes”, and sentenced to death. He died in November 2008.

Just a few weeks ago, Son’s brother Jung-hun was told about his death by another refugee.

“I believe that religion changed his entire life,” the brother said. “he hoped that one day he could open a free church in Pyongyang, and teach the Gospel.”

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