PYONGYANG/SEOUL (BosNewsLife) -- Family members and human rights activists urged the international community Saturday, April 22, to pressure North Korea not to execute a Christian man who has been accused of "betrayal" and "espionage" by the Communist government.
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has closely monitored the case, told BosNewsLife that the public execution of Son Jong Nam, 48, was imminent unless the world intervenes.
In a statement CSW and other activists said Son has been imprisoned in the basement of the National Security Agency in the North Korean capital Pyongyang and is "practically dead from horrible torture."
CSW said it had joined "with multiple agencies that protested today [Saturday, April 22] outside the government complex in [neighboring] South Korea in calling for efforts to rescue Son Jong Nam, who has been sentenced to public execution."
The appeal from CSW and other organizations, including five North Korean defector groups working for human rights, comes after Son’s brother, Son Jong Hoon, reportedly received information via a relative about the upcoming "public execution and that even family members cannot visit him."
CSW said the charges of "betraying" his country and sharing information with South Koreans is believed to stem from his visit to China where he met with his brother and spoke about life in North Korea "and, possibly, in his connection to Christianity."
He also received financial assistance for his survival from his brother. In published remarks Son Jong Hoon, 43, said that in China he only talked with his brother about family life and "what North Koreans think of the Kim Jong Il regime." He said his brother "shouldn’t be executed for the crime of betrayal or espionage. His execution needs to be stopped.”
Son Jong Nam defected from North Korea in 1997 with his wife, son and brother. He attended Church in China and became a Christian, seen as serious crime in North Korea.
While his brother was successful in reaching South Korea in 2002, Son Jong Nam was reportedly repatriated in April 2001 and imprisoned for three years in the Ham-Gyung-Buk area prison camp in North Korea.
He was released on parole in May 2004 after the intervention of what CSW described as "influential contacts" and expelled to Chongjin where he worked at a rocket research institute.
In May 2004 Son was able to meet his brother in China and return to North Korea, but an apparent agent for North Korea's secret service apparently reported him to authorities, CSW said.
He was reportedly detained again by secret police in January this year after leaving his younger sister’s house in Pyongyang. Those close to him have apparently been exiled from Pyongyang ahead of an expected public execution.
"Organizations including Association of North Korean Defectors, Democracy Network against North Korean Gulag, Free North Korean Broadcasting and 8,000 North Koreans are asking to stop the public execution of Son Jong Nam," they said in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife. "Mr Son is currently facing critical danger. By raising the consciousness of the international community, we may be able to save Mr Son," they added.
CSW’s International Advocate, Elizabeth Batha, who gathered extensive first hand testimony from numerous torture victims and eyewitnesses of public execution said she was "deeply concerned" about the situation.
"North Korea practices brutal torture and it is hard to imagine the pain and suffering that will already have been inflicted upon him. We urge the international community to match the bravery and boldness of those who have decided to take this unprecedented step of announcing this to the outside world."
Batha said she hopes "that those in a position of influence will be unstinting in strongly urging the North Koreans to abort their plans to carry out this unjust execution."
Christians often suffer as North Korea's Stalinist system is based on total devotion of the individual to an ideology promoted by the late leader Kim Il Sung and his successor and son, Kim Jong Il, observers who recently visited the country said.
The ideology largely resembles a religion or cult, and refugees' accounts say those who oppose it are dealt with severely, often ending up in prison camps. Despite the risks there are believed to be likely tens of thousands of practicing Christians.
Kim Il Sung, the man recruited in 1945 by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to found the Communist North Korean state, stamped out Christianity and the traditional Buddhism and Shamanism.
His ideology, which preaches self-reliance, is known as Juche, of which the late Kim is the central figure - so much so that the North Korean calendar begins with the year of his birth in 1912. One of the tallest structures in Pyongyang is the Juche Tower, built in Juche 70, or 1982.
Christian rights groups Open Doors has put North Korea on top of its World Watch List of 50 countries with severe persecution of Christians.
The government denies persecution and claims that since 1988 it has allowed three state-sponsored churches to operate in all of North Korea. However experts say these churches can only operate along party lines.
"Kim Jong Il allows Christian churches as long as they follow the party's guideline, Juche," said Eun Hee Shin a specialist on Asian religions at Simpson College in the United States, and an expert on Juche.
"If there is Christianity, there has to be Juche Christianity. So, it's OK to have Jesus, but Jesus has to be reinterpreted from a Juche ideology point of view," she told the Voice Of America (VOA) network.
North Korean Christians, including Evangelicals, refuse to accept this saying only Jesus Christ can be worshipped as He is "the Way, the Truth and the Life." Christian groups are involved in organizing a Global Week of Prayer for North Korea, which will run from June 19 through June 25, this year. (With BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos, BosNewsLife Research and reports from North Korea, South Korea and the United Kingdom).
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