Prayers for N. Korean Christians Urged as Tensions Rise, Sanctions OKd

The oppressed and voiceless Christians in North Korea particularly need prayers amid escalating tension on the Korean peninsula, reported a persecution watchdog group this week.

Tensions between the two Koreas have been rising since the sinking of a South Korean warship in March that resulted in the deaths of 46 people. Though South Korea concluded that North Korea torpedoed its warship, North Korea has vehemently denied the South's accusations and even held a rare press conference with the media.

"We don't have anything like a 130-ton Yeono-class submersible," Major General Pak Rim Su, director of policy department at the North's National Defense Commission, told reporters in the conference aired on Pyongyang's Chungang TV.

Despite the North's claim, the incident has prompted Seoul to announce its intention to cut trade with its socialist neighbor and to take on a hardline diplomatic approach to the North.

Japan, meanwhile, approved new sanctions against North Korea on Friday.

While many back the idea of punishing the rogue nation, Open Doors USA President Carl Moeller noted in a recent interview that economic sanctions against the North would make life harder for the already impoverished citizens of the world's most reclusive country.

Christians in North Korea especially get it tougher as they suffer from fear of religious persecution on top of the hardships faced by the general population.

"[T]he underground networks of believers are under more pressure as a result of more government infiltration," said Moeller to Mission Network News.

In North Korea, it is illegal to be a Christian. A person found to be a believer is sent to hard labor camps or sometimes even publicly executed.

An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 Christians are currently in prison labor camps because of their faith.

Moeller, whose organization has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 53 years, said the number one request of North Korean believers is for Christians worldwide to pray for them and for a spiritual revival in their country.

In January, North Korea was named the world's top persecutor of Christians for the eighth straight year by Open Doors' World Watch List.

Presently, the de facto leader of North Korea is Kim Jong-il, the son of North Korea's late founder, Kim Il-sung.