Activists Call for N. Korea Freedom on Kim Jong-il's Birthday

The launch of giant balloons with messages about human rights, a screening of a documentary about North Korea's humanitarian situation, and other events around the world will take place Tuesday to call for freedom in North Korea as its "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il marks his 68th birthday.

Kim's birthday is a national holiday in North Korea that is marked by "celebrations" such as dance performances, an ice sculpture festival and the screening of a documentary that promotes Kim as a great leader.

But rights groups and concerned individuals want to mark Kim's birthday by exposing the truth behind his leadership. They plan to alert the world as well as North Koreans inside the isolated nation that citizens under Kim Jong-il have no human rights and that tens of thousands of people are thrown into concentration camps simply for criticizing the government.

It is also illegal to be a Christian in North Korea. An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 Christians are in prison camps, according to Open Doors USA. Despite the persecution, there are reportedly about 400,000 Christians in North Korea.

"The house churches, especially in villages where they receive opposition, are made up almost only of immediate family members," said Paul Estabrooks, minister-at-large with Open Doors, to Mission Network News. "They don't sing because they can't reveal the fact that they're worshipping together."

Sources inside North Korea report that people have been publicly executed for possessing a Bible. It is one of the worst crimes to be discovered a Christian because the person is considered to be a traitor to the nation.

"Please join with me in praying for those Christians who are not only facing starvation but also facing imprisonment or death because they are believers in Jesus Christ," says Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller, in a statement for Kim Jong-il's birthday. "I believe 2010 will be a critical year for North Korea. The Christians there are asking us not to pray for their safety but for continued strength, boldness for Christ and outreach to the poor and hungry."

To mark Kim's birthday, North Korea Freedom Coalition has organized a screening of the award-winning documentary Kimjongilia at The Falls Church in Falls Church, Va., Tuesday night. The film features stories by survivors of North Korea's prison camps, of devastating famine, and other forms of repression. The interviews with the defectors took place in South Korea, where they now live.

"Along with the survivors' stories, 'Kimjongilia' examines the mass illusion possible under totalitarianism and the human rights abuses required to maintain that illusion," says the film's website.

Meanwhile, Fighters for Free North Korea on Tuesday plans to launch giant balloons, filled with a message from North Korean defectors and Americans regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, into the reclusive country.

In addition to the messages, the balloons, which will be launched from South Korea, will include AM/FM/Shortwave radios and money to help support the private markets (an economic stimulus project for North Korea).

Other North Korea Freedom projects for Feb. 16 include financially supporting the rescue of North Korean women and children from traffickers in China, writing letters to North Koreans, and helping North Korean refugees resettle in the United States.

Last month, Robert King, the U.S. envoy for human rights in North Korea, told reporters in Seoul, "It (North Korea) is one of the worst places in terms of the lack of human rights. The situation is appalling."

King said Pyongyang must show greater respect for human rights in order for relations between the United States and North Korea to improve.

The United States has no direct diplomatic relations with North Korea.

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