The sudden death of a South Korean missionary in China is rousing suspicions over possible North Korean involvement as the deceased man worked closely with refugees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The 46-year-old missionary, only identified as Kim by the Korea JoongAng Daily, died after collapsing on the street while waiting for a taxi in Dandong city, which lies on the border of China and North Korea.
Though the Chinese police found no traces of poison in their initial autopsy, diplomats from Seoul’s foreign ministry, taking all necessary precautions, asked Chinese authorities to protect South Koreans near the North’s border.
A second autopsy was proposed to further investigate the matter, but Kim’s family refused, wanting to cremate the missionary’s body.
The consulate “has strongly requested the related organization in the Chinese government to ensure the safety of South Koreans in border regions, and plans to take necessary measures to prevent further incidents from happening,” a statement said, according to the Daily.
Additionally, another unidentified South Korean man in northeast China was also purportedly targeted recently by possible Pyongyang agents for openly protesting against the North’s regime.
He was stabbed in the waist with a poisoned needle after leaving a sauna in Yanji, and was immediately rushed to the hospital. He survived the incident however, unlike Kim.
Seoul’s foreign ministry is investigating both cases. Though some believe North Korean agents are at work, looking to silence activists and voices of dissent, no solid evidence has surfaced yet proving their theory.
Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea, an organization involved in evangelizing and giving general assistance to refugees from North Korea who cross into northeast China, told AFP that he had a “very strong suspicion” that North agents were involved as well.
Because Kim was involved in evangelical work among the North’s refugees, it would make him a target of the regime, which severely punished Christians. Any citizen discovered to be a Christian was immediately arrested, imprisoned, tortured, or sometimes publicly executed.
Three generations of an exposed Christian’s family members also suffered consequences, imprisoned and punished inside labor camps.
The only purported deity allowed to exist in North Korea is that of the “Eternal President” Kim Jong-il and his late father, Kim Il-Sung. All are forced to adhere to a personality cult revolving around the two.
Many, outside of the country and within, have been caught and punished for proselytizing in the peninsula or worshipping God.
Jun Young-su, 60, from Orange County, Calif., was imprisoned in November 2010 for attempting to spread Christianity in the North. He was, however, luckily released on humanitarian grounds in May.
Last year, three leaders of the underground church in North Korea were executed for gathering together for religious activity. In 2009, a 33-year-old Christian woman named Ri Hyon-ok was also publicly executed for distributing Bibles as well.
Her husband, children and parents were sent to a political prison the day after her execution, a report by the Investigative Commission on Crimes against Humanity (ICCAH) stated.
Thousands of other cases similar to Young-su and Hyon-ok exist as well.
According to Open Doors, an organization serving persecuted Christians worldwide, North Korea currently holds the number one spot on the World Watch List as the fiercest persecutor of Christianity.
An estimated 400,000 believers exist in North Korea, despite the risks, while 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are held in labor camps. In 2010 alone, hundreds of Christians were arrested for their faith.
In the 13th Annual Report on International Religious Freedom released Tuesday by the State Department, North Korea kept its label as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC), a label designated for the worst violators of religious freedoms.
“The government of the Democratic Republic of Korea continued to violate individuals’ right to choose and practice their religious faiths,” the report stressed.
“The government reportedly used authorized religious entities for external propaganda and political purposes and barred citizens from entering places of worship. Some foreign visitors stated that church services appeared staged and included political content supportive of the government.”
Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea, concluded, “There’s a kind of sobering awareness that [these attacks are] always lurking in the shadows. It’s part of the price one pays for doing missionary work in this area.”