- (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
As North Korea continues defying the concerns of the world by going ahead with its third nuclear test, refugees from the troubled country have spoken out to reveal the extreme religious persecution believers are suffering in the isolated Pacific nation.
"They ignore all freedoms. The human rights level is zero percent. Religions are not allowed. The leader of North Korea (Kim Jong-Un) has to be worshipped as god and this will not change unless the regime collapses," said a man identified as "Timothy," a 24-year old North Korean refugee.
Timothy has revealed to Open Doors USA, a persecution watchdog group, that he was tortured almost to the point of death for trying to escape to China nine years ago. He added that the government is "preoccupied with nuclear tests."
The U.N. Security Council has "strongly condemned" the nuclear test, with outgoing Pentagon chief Leon Panetta calling North Korea and Iran "rogue states" for their insistence on carrying out nuclear tests.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said the test was a "clear and grave violation" of U.N. guidelines. North Korea, on the other hand, has reacted by promising "even stronger" action against the U.S. and its allies, which it has called "the sworn enemy of the Korean people."
Open Door's 2012 World Watch List of the worst persecutors around the world has named North Korea top of the list for 11 straight year. The Pacific country reportedly allows virtually no religious freedom, and Christians are routinely jailed, forced to work in labor camps, and sometimes executed.
Just last month, two North Korean Christians were confirmed to have been killed simply for their faith, according to Open Doors. One believer was shot while leaving for Bible training in China, and the other died at a labor camp in North Korea.
Jerry Dykstra, a spokesman for Open Doors USA, has said: "We believe that is only the tip of the iceberg. Research estimates there are as many as 70,000 Christians in the gulags out of an estimated 200,000 prisoners."
"I remember they showed us cartoons and animated movies about bad Christians," Timothy shared of the 15 years he spent in North Korea. "The Christian God was a monster for me. However, when I was 11, I witnessed the public execution of a Christian. His crime was that he had hidden tiny Bibles in the roof of his house."
"The same year a lady was shot," the refugee continued. "She had escaped to China and went to church there, but a North Korean spy discovered her activities. He had her arrested and sent back to North Korea, where she was also killed in public. I am convinced these practices still occur in my country. As for myself, I learned to trust in God. Thanks to Him, I am still alive."
Open Doors shared the story of another refugee, identified as "Joo-Eun," who also explained that religious freedom does not exist in North Korea.
"People are simply killed if they believe in Jesus. Kim Jong-Un is god and there cannot be any god besides him," Joo-Eun added, referring to the current "supreme leader" of the North Korean people.
"Nowhere else in the world can you find a three generation dictatorship," the refugee continued. "Yes, there are church services in North Korea, but only when foreigners are present. The state calls up some locals to be present. There is no freedom of religion, speech or press in North Korea."
Analysts fear that North Korea is building toward developing small warheads capable of launching long-range missiles that could reach the United States, and Pyongyang is getting closer to possessing the nuclear capabilities that could potentially cause wide-spread damage.