Have you ever wondered what it is like to be locked up in a North Korean prison camp? We hear the horror stories of hard labor and severe beatings, but likely have no true grasp on how brutal such a punishment really is. What is more shocking is that a huge number of those sentenced to such a horrific ordeal have been sentenced for nothing more than a belief in Christ.
In a recent interview with Christian Today, A North Korean escapee, Hea Woo (not her real name), described her horrific experiences at the hands of the North Koreans. “When people died the guards just broke the dead bodies into two pieces, put them in a cart and took them outside,” she explained.
“Once in a while we had to take the bodies outside of the camps to cremate the bodies. But the crematorium was so small and there were so many dead bodies that we had to cut the dead bodies into small pieces with an axe,” she added. “After the cremation the ashes were scattered in the fields but often they were blown away in the wind. So the inmates had to walk over the ash. I thought; “One day the prisoners will walk over me.'”
Woo said that she was forced to share a cell designed to accommodate around 50 people with some 200 fellow inmates.
“We were so cramped if you got up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet you couldn’t find any space to squeeze back in to sleep. There wasn’t even space to stand properly,” she recalled. “In one corner of the cell there was a toilet but to prevent the prisoners from escaping there were no windows in the toilet – only a hole in the floor.”
American citizen Kenneth Bae is another Christian who has disclosed his experiences of being held in the confines of a North Korean labor camp. In an interview with the BBC, he recalled being forced to work six days a week on a farm, “carrying rock, shovelling coal.”
One of the worst aspects of his incarceration was the constant psychological warfare, Bae said. He recalled a prison guard repeating to him, over and over again: “No-one remembers you. You have been forgotten by people, your government. You’re not going home anytime soon. You’ll be here for 15 years. You’ll be 60 before you go home.”
“I felt like an insect, tangled in the spider web,” he said. “Every time I moved it got messier, with no way out.”
Due to his rapid weight loss and the squalid conditions, Kenneth became very unwell. At this point, as was the case with Otto Warmbier, the North Korean authorities realized that his imprisonment was not worth the diplomatic fallout – so they released him.
International human rights organization Amnesty International has sought to bring a spotlight onto the North Korean camps, which it describes as “harsh beyond endurance.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people – including children – are detained in political prison camps and other detention facilities in North Korea,” the organization noted. “Many of those have not committed any crime, but are merely family members of those deemed guilty of serious political crimes.”
Despite the ghastly conditions and inhumane treatment, Christians such as Woo have recalls God being present in their midst as they called out to Him. “In that horrid situation God was there too,” she told Christian Today.
“I started to pray for the lost souls there who are dying without knowing Jesus Christ. I prayed to the Lord saying: “I want to be a salt and light in this place for these poor souls.'”
Christian persecution charity Open Doors USA lists North Korea as the most oppressive country in the world when it comes to being a practicing follower of Jesus.
“The main driver of North Korea Christian Persecution is the state. For three generations, everything in the country focused on idolizing the leading Kim family. Christians are seen as hostile elements in society which have to be eradicated. Due to the constant indoctrination permeating the whole country, neighbors and even family members are highly watchful and report anything suspicious to the authorities,” Open Doors USA notes.
“Children are especially vulnerable to the heavy indoctrination. Reports show that some children report their own parents for religious activity. Therefore, many parents prefer not to tell their children anything about their Christian faith until they’re older.”