Persecution Expert: N. Korea Likely to Crack Down on Christians after Activist's Entry

It is "very, very" unlikely that any good will come to North Korean Christians in the short term from the recent illegal entry of the Korean-American activist, said the president of a ministry that works with persecuted Christians.

"It is hard for us to know how it will impact the Christians in North Korea," said Carl Moeller, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, the world's largest mission agency working on behalf of persecuted Christians.

"[But] I can say clearly – though I don't know Mr. Park and I don't actually understand his motivation for this type of method – the likelihood of it helping the Christians [in North Korea] in the short term is very, very small."

Moeller spoke to The Christian Post Wednesday on the day that his ministry released its 2010 World Watch List, an annual list that ranks the world's top persecutors of Christians.

For the eighth straight year, North Korea was given the undesirable title of the world's worst persecutor of Christians.

The totalitarian regime bans Christianity and has publically executed citizens found to possess a Bible. An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 Christians are currently in prison labor camps because of their faith.

Just two weeks ago, Christian activist Robert Park reportedly crossed the border into North Korea from China in an effort to bring international attention on the situations of Christians and other North Koreans in the communist nation.

No word confirming his presence in North Korea has been heard since his entry on Christmas Day. But on Dec. 29, North Korea's state-run media announced that it had taken into custody an American man who entered the country from China on Christmas Eve. Though the day of entry differs, most people, including Park's family and the U.S. government, believe the man in custody is Robert Park.

U.S. government officials are working with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, who cares for U.S. interest in North Korea, to find out more information about Park's situation. Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

Park, according to a copy of his letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il that was posted on a South Korean civic group's Web site, appealed to Kim to open the North Korean border to humanitarian agencies, to close down all concentration camps and to release all political prisoners.

There are about 160,000 political prisoners in prison camps across North Korea, according to South Korean and American government estimates based on testimonies from former prisoners.

Open Doors contacts inside North Korea have reported that those discovered to be Christians are thrown into concentration camps and often die in prison.

"Christians are the target of fierce government action, and once caught, are not regarded as human," said a veteran North Korean watcher, who is not identified for security reasons, to Open Doors for the release of its report. "Last year we had evidence that some were used as guinea pigs to test chemical and biological weapons."

Moeller expressed fear that the government will respond to Park's trespass with harsher crackdown on Christians where they are known to exist, such as in labor camps.

"Embarrassment to the North Korean regime is one of the worst things [someone can do] and more than likely that Christians will be suffering greater harm in North Korea," the Open Doors president said.

However, he said, one positive thing that has resulted from Park's action is that it shined an international spotlight on the fact that there are Christians suffering in North Korea.

"We have to rejoice that more people in the world understand and [will] begin to pray for those Christians that are there," Moeller said.

This year, Moeller said Open Doors plans to encourage Christians around the world to join believers inside North Korea in prayer campaigns for freedom to exist in the country. The ministry will also focus more effort on its "Free to Believe" campaign that lobbies members of the United Nations to protect religious freedom.

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