Death Row Christian in N. Korea Incites Demand for Release, Pleas for Life

WASHINGTON – The brother of the North Korean Christian man awaiting public execution for simply being a Christian pleaded with the world Thursday to press North Korea to release his elder brother while presidential candidate Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) demanded the man's freedom.

Son Jong Hoon, the brother of the imprisoned North Korean Christian Son Jong Nam, traveled from his home in Seoul, South Korea to plead for the life of his brother. The younger Son was also born in North Korea but was able to escape to South Korea in 2002.

"Right now the purpose of my life is to save my brother," said Son Jong Hoon. "Now I am also praying to God to save my brother.

"Please, please, please write letters to your senators and members in Congress," he pleaded. "Please, please also write a letter to the United Nations. Also please write to government authorities in North Korea."

North Korea is one of the most repressive regimes in the World and is ranked by the ministry Open Doors as the world's worst persecutor of Christians. Citizens of the communist state are forced to adhere to a personality cult revolved around worshipping current dictator Kim Jong Il and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung.

Son was joined Thursday by Sen. Brownback who last week sent letters signed by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and David Vitter (R-La.) to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking them to work to secure the release of the Christian prisoner.

"This is a horrific case. The execution should not occur. It is wrong," said Brownback. "I think the North Korean government, as part of the six-party talks and as a statement of good faith, should not execute this individual.

"I think this is also an indicator of the brutality of the North Korean government. This isn't the first time this has happened."

There were about 300,000 Christians in 1953 but the number has shot down to a few thousand who secretly practice their faith, according to VOM.

"The key thing that people need to know about North Korea is that 10 percent of the population has died over the past 15 years," said Brownback. "You have a massive genocide that has happened because of the North Korean government. The weapon of mass destruction has already been deployed [and that] is the government of North Korea because of the gulag system and mass starvation by and at the hand of the government.

"People need to know that," said the senator, who has long been an advocate of human rights and religious freedom in oppressive countries.

The Voice of the Martyrs, which is spearheading the campaign, explained that the case is special and seems more tragic and unfair than others because all Son is charged with is being a Christian.

The imprisoned Son had served in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Army and achieved the rank of captain before the government became suspicious of him and labeled him a traitor. Government officials went as far as kicking his then 8-month pregnant wife during an investigation and caused her to miscarry their baby.

A disillusioned Son along with his wife, son, and brother (Son Jong Hoon) escaped to China in 1998. However, his wife died within months of arriving in China due to complications from the miscarriage.

It was in China that Son met a South Korean missionary who taught him about Christianity. He became a believer and wanted to return to North Korea to be an evangelist. But before he could carry out his dream, he was captured by Chinese authorities and returned to North Korea where he was imprisoned and brutally tortured for three years.

After his release in 2004, he worked in a rocket research institute and later reunited with his brother in China. Again he was arrested and returned to North Korea in January 2006 and was charged with being a "national traitor" and for "receiving Christianity." His initial date for public execution was set for March 2006. However, he was handed over to the Military Security Commander in July 2006.

It is not known if Son is still alive or dead, but there is reason to believe he is still alive because there has been no news of his execution.

The younger brother, Son Jong Hoon, who is now fighting for his brother's life, noted that his health is not good because of hardship from escaping North Korea, but that he "came from far, far away" just to tell the world of his brother's desperate situation.

"I love my brother. He is a brave and good man," said Son. "If you also get to know him, I am almost certain you will also love him.

"Please help my brother," he pleaded.

Son also noted that the South Korean government is "not doing anything" to help the case because of its Sunshine Policy – which emphasizes peaceful cooperation and reconciliation towards the North rather than punishment or economic threats. The policy has the goal of eventual reunification of the Korean peninsula.

South Korean NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and churches, on the other hand, are advocating for Son Jong Nam's release.

The Voice of the Martyrs, based in Bartlesville, Okla., has for 40 years served the persecuted church and has worked in North Korea for more than a decade. Some of the activities the ministry does to support and aid Christians in North Korea include launching helium balloons printed with either the Gospel of Mark or a tract entitled "How to Know God" into North Korea. VOM also smuggles copies of an audio drama, "He Lived Among Us," and copies of the New Testament through China into the reclusive country.

VOM encourages concerned persons to visit to write a letter of encouragement to Son – which a program will translate into Korean – that will be mailed to the North Korean delegation to the United Nations. The ministry also requests that participants attach a cover letter asking the North Korean government to spare Son's life, release him from prison immediately, report on his current status and deliver the personal letters to Son.

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