As North and South Korean leaders met face-to-face Tuesday to start the historic North-South summit, a Christian ministry reminded the world that inside North Korea are possibly over a million citizens held prisoners by the rogue regime.
Eight prison camps for political prisoners in North Korea contain an estimated half a million to a million people, according to research by Open Doors inside the country. In addition, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are forced to work every day in 30 other camps.
"It is not inconceivable that the number of prisoners has passed the one million mark," said Simon (full name withheld for security reasons), who manages Open Doors' work in North Korea. "Many camps are so large that they are not recognized as camps on satellite photos. They consist of entire villages."
Simon said he cannot reveal the details on how the research is done for security reasons, but he said he has contacts through networks of tens of thousands of Christians in North Korea.
The ministry leader estimates that there are at least 200,000 underground Christians and more likely 400,000 to half a million Christians in the country where any religion besides the personality-cult revolving around North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il and his father is banned.
"In North Korea, it is strictly forbidden to be a Christian," Simon noted. "Anyone who has a Bible is sent to a camp, along with his or her whole family.
At least a quarter of the Christians are imprisoned for their faith in political prison camps which people rarely get out alive, according to Open Doors, which has worked in North Korea for over tens years smuggling Bibles into the country, broadcasting Christian radio, and working through organizations with North Korean refugees along the border in China. The ministry ranks North Korea as one of the most repressive regimes in the world and as the world's worst persecutor of Christians.
Both current leader Kim Jong-Il and his father Kim Il Sung are considered deities and all other religions are forbidden, with Christianity seen as the greatest threat to the state and to Kim's power.
In light of human rights and other problems, South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun has been criticized for not giving any specific goals he seeks to achieve at the historic North-South summit – the second held since the Korean War cease-fire agreement in 1953.
"Unless Roh is planning on raising these issues (human rights) and/or arresting Kim Jong-il for crimes against humanity, then this summit will simply allow Kim Jong-il to continue to interfere with South Korea's elections, produce massive amounts of drugs, counterfeit U.S. dollars and work aggressively to destroy South Korea's democracy," Suzanne Scholte, chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, told The Christian Post in August.
The North-South Summit is expected to commence formal talks Wednesday and conclude on Thursday.