North Korea COVID victims starving to death in quarantine camps, says Christian activist

In this file photo, a stunted North Korean child stands with a shovel in shriveled corn field in a disaster-hit part of the country.
In this file photo, a stunted North Korean child stands with a shovel in shriveled corn field in a disaster-hit part of the country. | (PHOTO: REUTERS/TIM LARGE)

North Korean citizens infected with COVID are being placed in “quarantine camps” where they are deprived of food, water, and medicine, causing many to starve to death, Christian activists have revealed. 

Tim Peters, a Christian activist who runs Seoul-based nonprofit Helping Hands Korea, told The South China Morning Post that sources in the North had reported the establishment of COVID “quarantine camps” in cities near the Chinese border.

“One of the more alarming pieces of information that has come our way is that the DPRK government is providing absolutely minimal or no food or medicine to those who are interred there,” said Peters, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

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“So it’s up to the families of the quarantined citizens to come to the edge of the camps and bring food to keep quarantined relatives alive along with whatever health-related aids that they can muster, whether it be purchased medicines sold in the jangmadang markets or even herbal home remedies gathered from mountainsides. My sources indicate many in these camps have already died, not only from the pandemic but also from starvation and related causes.”

Peters, whose NGO delivers medical and other supplies to North Korea, added that reports corroborate the testimony of survivors of the country’s prison camps. In those camps, “providing an absolutely minimum amount of food” is common practice, causing many inmates to die of starvation.

“In short, my sense is that the situation pertaining to COVID-19 inside North Korea is gravely serious,” he said.

David Lee, a pastor who works with North Korean defectors in Seoul, told the outlet that those who kept in contact with relatives still in the restrictive country had reported cases of people with COVID symptoms “being forced into isolation, or being boarded up in their homes without food or other support and left to die.”

Lee said North Korean authorities “don’t have proper testing kits” to track or stop what is known in the country as the “ghost disease.”

Another South Korea-based human rights activist, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that authorities incinerated numerous bodies after a suspected case of coronavirus involving a cross-border trader.

The activist said: “The central inspection authorities came from Pyongyang and burned all the bodies. The residents are very anxious.”

Last month, during a military parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was grateful no one in his country had contracted the “ malignant virus.”

“The fact that we have defended all our people from the harmful epidemic disease sweeping the whole world can be said to be a natural duty and success of our Party,” he declared.

The CDC website notes that North Korea has not reported data on COVID-19 cases to the World Health Organization.

The human rights abuses occurring under the Kim regime are well documented. North Korea is ranked as the number one persecutor of Christians in the world by Open Doors 2020 World Watch List.

A new report from the London-based Korea Future Initiative details the gruesome nature of the country’s prison camps, where hundreds of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities are held. 

The report, titledPersecuting Faith: Documenting religious freedom violations in North Korea, recounts numerous stories of persecution involving public executions, sexual violence, beatings, torture, and forced abortions.

In one account, a person was executed by firing squad in front of more than 1,000 people. Prisoners were also executed after their guards found a Bible or other religious material in their cells.

Il-lyong Ju, an exiled human rights advocate who helped put the report together, said in the report's foreword: "The cruel actions of the privileged few in North Korea who take our lives and control our thoughts must be prevented. North Korean officials, whose crimes evoke thoughts of Auschwitz, must be identified and held accountable. And we must not forget the testimonies of the survivors in this report who have overpowered death in North Korea."

"This is the least that we, the free North Koreans, and you ... who has been granted freedom at birth, can do as our collective act of humanity. We have freedom. The North Korean people do not."

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