WASHINGTON — North Korean orphans are "tortured harshly" if it's discovered they're Christian, and the Chinese government is complicit is these atrocities, according to human rights activists and freedom advocates for North Korea.
Several human rights advocates, including a North Korean defector who wore sunglasses to conceal her identity, told harrowing accounts of orphaned children in North Korea and refugees living in China to draw attention to their plight during a panel held at Georgetown University on Wednesday.
The event was part of the week-long North Korean Freedom Week sponsored by the North Korean Freedom Coalition, hosted by the Isabella Foundation and Georgetown's Truth and Human Rights in North Korea.
Lim Hye-Jin of the New Korea Women's Union recounted through a translator one such story about the North Korean dictatorship's treatment of 17 North Korean orphans who decided to defect and made their home under a bridge in China. They were arrested and detained at a detention center in China and forcibly repatriated to North Korea. Three of the 17 were discovered to be Christians and were sent to a political prison camp.
"Under North Korean law, children under the age of 18 should not be sent to a political prison camp. But in this case, they were found to be Christians and had been in a church, [so] they were separated from their group" where they were "tortured harshly" while the other orphans were sent to a reeducation camp with other children, Lim said.
The North Korean security agents found out that they were Christians because they discovered calluses on their knees, as they had been praying for a long time for God to help them, Lim said.
The other 14 orphans were told that the three Christian orphans who had been separated from the group had been sent back to an orphanage in North Korea. But those children told Lim that if that was so, they knew that they would try to escape because they were "100 percent sure" they would starve to death if they had stayed in the orphanage. They at least had a chance at survival begging in the streets.
Stories like these continue to happen today, Lim added, concluding her remarks by asking people to pray for North Koreans.
Suzanne Scholte, founder and president of the Defense Forum Foundation, who co-hosted the panel, noted that North Korean refugees are unlike any others worldwide because they have a place to go for immediate resettlement as they are citizens of South Korea under the South Korean Constitution.
"There's no reason for China to continue this brutal inhumane policy of how they deal with the North Korean refugees and the orphans," Scholte added, noting that the crisis could be solved overnight if the Chinese government would abide by its international treaty obligations.
The severe persecution of Christians in North Korea isn't new. Open Door USA consistently ranks the totalitarian nation as the most oppressive place in the world for Christians.
The Christian Post asked the panel why the North Korean regime considers Christianity particularly threatening so as to even torture children.
"The Kim regime established itself using some of the doctrine of the Christian faith," Scholte explained, adding that Kim Il Sung, the first of the Kim dynasty, recognized the power of the faith since many of those who stood up to Japanese oppressors were Christians and were instrumental in the Korean independence movement even though they were a small minority of the population.
But Kim Il Sung "perverted it for his own purposes, setting himself up as God," she said, appropriating his son as the Christ figure and "Juche," which means "self-reliance," for the Holy Spirit. The regime has a creed of its own which is patterned after the Apostles Creed, which declares religious allegiance to the dictatorship.
"So if you're a Christian and you believe in God [and not the dictator] that's a direct threat to the regime," she said.