Christians brainwashed and living in fear, says defector

South China Morning Post (Hong Kong)/January 26, 2002
By Agence France-Presse

A North Korean defector tearfully warned that the United States was the "last hope" of Christians in the Stalinist state, where she says worshippers are trapped in an evil personality cult centred on late leader Kim Il-sung.

Lee Soon-ok, a former inmate of a North Korean detention camp, claimed during a hearing at the US Congress on Thursday that Christians faced imprisonment as political criminals in the country and that organised religion was crushed as a threat to the state.

Other witnesses at the hearing held by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom described the plight of life in drought and famine-racked North Korea.

"I didn't know God when I lived in North Korea because we were brainwashed to worship Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il," Ms Lee told the panel.

Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994, cultivated a godlike status in a personality cult. He is still revered as North Korea's "eternal president" but was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il.

"In North Korea they are brainwashed to believe that religion is like an opium or a drug - people are indoctrinated that religion in itself is a worthless thing," Ms Lee said. "I am here to implore you as the last hope of Christians in North Korea."

Because of the closed nature of the isolated state, a true evaluation of the situation there is all but impossible.

Thursday's hearing was one of the few instances of public testimony by an exile.

Ms Lee, who escaped from North Korea after serving a term in prison, said there were hundreds of Christians interned at the camp. She testified that inmates faced torture and some pregnant detainees were forced to endure late-term abortions. Emergency doctor Norbert Vollersten spent 18 months in North Korea until he was expelled in December 2000 for publicly denouncing the regime.

"There are two worlds in North Korea. The world for the senior military, the members of the Workers' Party and the country's elite where they are enjoying a nice lifestyle with fancy restaurants, diplomatic shops with European food, nightclubs and even a casino," Dr Vollersten said.

"For the ordinary people, in a hospital, one can see young children, all of them too small for their age, with hollow eyes and skin stretched tight across their faces, wearing blue and white striped pyjamas like the children in Auschwitz and Dachau in Hitler's Nazi Germany."

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