N. Korean Leader's Reported Health Woes Unlikely to Affect Anti-Christian Policies

Ministry staff working with North Korean Christians do not expect a change in government policies and practices that persecute believers amid ongoing speculation about the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and rumors of an internal power struggle.

South Korean and U.S. officials say North Korea's autocratic 66-year-old leader suffered a stroke, reportedly in mid-August, and Voice of Martyrs (VOM) contacts similarly reported that Kim had suffered an acute illness, quite possibly a stroke, that incapacitated him to an extent around that time.

The latter source added, however, that the health lapse was not debilitating enough to prevent him from interacting with those around him.

Moreover, the VOM contacts claimed that five Chinese physicians are known to be in the country and assumed to be treating him.

"It is … reasonably certain that no change in the North Korean power structure has occurred, and there are no signs that such change is imminent," stated a staff member who oversees VOM's work in North Korea.

"Kim Jong Il rose to power through the military, through the army, and the likelihood is that regardless of what his health situation is, the military is going to maintain control," added VOM spokesman Todd Nettleton.

"And that means that things are not going to change substantially for the Christian population of North Korea, which is so heavily persecuted by their government," he told OneNewsNow.

According to persecution watchdog Open Doors, North Korea is the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have also expressed concerns about religious persecution in the country.

Though the reclusive nation's constitution states that freedom of religion is permitted, groups such as Human Rights Watch claim free religious activities no longer exist in North Korea as the government sponsors religious groups only to create an illusion of religious freedom.

Religious freedom advocates say the four state-sanctioned churches that exist today are showcases for foreigners.

Chuck Downs, executive director of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, believes the human rights situation in North Korea – particularly that of Christians – will improve if someone replaces Kim Jong-Il as leader, even if that person is one of Kim's own sons.

Though no line of succession has yet been publicly noted, a VOM North Korea insider says it is well established that the Chinese prefer Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Il's eldest son, while the North Korean military prefers Kim Jong Chul, Kim's second son.

North Korea, however, denies Kim is ill, though the leader was out of public sight for two months and missed several important anniversary celebrations.

Some media reports have also claimed that Kim's alleged stroke has created a chaotic power struggle for control of the country.

Voice of Martyrs, which has been working with persecuted believers in North Korea for decades, is encouraging all believers to pray for the situation in North Korea, for the protection of believers living in harsh conditions and those who have defected to China, and for God to use their courageous testimonies to draw nonbelievers into fellowship with Him.

The ministry has also released a new book relating the history of the Gospel and of persecution in the nation to aid effective prayer for the people.

Official government statistics report that there are today 10,000 Protestants and 4,000 Roman Catholics in North Korea.

Christian Post reporter Eric Young contributed to this article.