N. Korean Christian on Death Row Sparks Campaign by Watchdog Group, U.S. Senators

WASHINGTON – A Christian persecution watch group, with the support of U.S. lawmakers, launched a worldwide campaign effort Tuesday to free a North Korean man awaiting public execution for the crime of simply being a Christian.

The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), an international ministry which assists persecuted Christians around the world, is calling on people around the world to help free the North Korean Christian Son Jong Nam.

Son was a former North Korean army officer who came to believe in Jesus Christ during his escape to China where he met a South Korean missionary. He has reportedly been beaten, tortured and held both in China and in North Korea for being a Christian. He is now currently in a death row basement jail in the capital city Pyongyang. The Christian evangelist is said to be sentenced to public execution as an example to the North Korean people.

The new global initiative to free Son is supported by U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who has a history of fighting for human rights in oppressive countries.

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

"Future cooperation and engagement with North Korea will be far more challenging if its leaders continue to persecute their own people for religious views," read the letters from the senators.

"The United States has made political and religious freedoms important elements in its diplomatic relations, and we are gravely concerned about abuses of such basic rights in North Korea," they wrote.

Meanwhile, the VOM campaign is calling on people in the United States and around the world to write letters and send emails on Son's behalf.

"We are asking for prayers for Mr. Son, but also that people around the world take action on his behalf," said Todd Nettleton, director of media development for VOM, in a statement. "Jesus said ministering to a prisoner was like ministering to Himself. Every letter and email can make a difference."

People can compose a personal letter of support and encouragement to Son by going to the VOM website The letter can be mailed to the North Korean delegation to the United Nations, along with a cover letter asking the North Korean government to pardon Son, release him from prison immediately, report on his current status, and deliver the personal letters to Son.

Moreover, concerned persons are encouraged to send email to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.S. Department of State, asking them to intervene on Son's behalf.

"All religions have been harshly repressed in North Korea," said Nettleton. "Thousands of Christians have been murdered since the Korean War. In 1953, there were an estimated 300,000 Christians; however, the number is much lower today. Christians must practice their faith in deep secrecy and are in constant danger."

North Korea is a totalitarian state ruled by one man and imposing a personality cult on its citizens which revolves around current dictator Kim Jong Il and his father Kim Il Sung. Both Kims are considered deities and all other religions are forbidden, with Christianity seen as the greatest threat to the state and Kim's power.

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