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UN Urges North Korea to "Suspend" Execution Of Christian

Friday, June 2, 2006 | Tag Cloud

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

NEW YORK/LONDON/PYONGYANG/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife) -- Christian rights activists on Thursday, June 1, welcomed a decision by United Nations human rights officials to pressure North Korea to suspend the scheduled execution of Son Jong Nam, a detained Christian who criticized living conditions in his Communist-run nation.

UK-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said it supports the steps taken by UN officials Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Leila Zerrougui, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on the question of torture; and Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea.

The UN representatives said North Korea had failed to "respond in any meaningful way" to their concerns over the scheduled execution of Son, and noted he was reportedly tortured by the National Security Agency and sentenced "without the benefit of any of the procedural safeguards required by international human rights" law.

Son’s brother, Son Jong Hoon, told journalists recently that his brother "is sentenced to public execution and even family members cannot visit him."

IMPRISONED IN BASEMENT

He said the last news of Son Jong Nam was that "he was imprisoned in the basement of the National Security Agency in Pyongyang and was practically dead from torture."

The UN-human rights officials said in a statement that they were "profoundly dismayed by this response and deplore the failure of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to cooperate with the special procedures established by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights."

In late April the experts urged North Korea to postpone the execution and review the conviction. But on May 5 the government described the experts’ letter as a "a product of conspiracy undertaken in pursuit of the ill-minded aim of spreading fabricated information while following the attempts of those hostile forces to defame, disintegrate and overthrow the state and social system of the DPRK on the pretext of human rights."

"BETRAYING" HIS COUNTRY

Son has been charged with "betraying" his country and sharing information with South Koreans after a visit to China where he reportedly met with his brother and spoke about life in North Korea and his connection to Christianity.

He defected from North Korea in 1997 with his wife, son and brother and while in China attended a church became a Christian, seen as serious crime in neighboring 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 agent for North Korea's secret service apparently reported him to authorities.

EXILED FROM PYONGYANG

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 reportedly been exiled from Pyongyang ahead of an expected public execution.

Investigators suggest that Son's case has come to symbolize the plight of thousands of Christians and dissidents in prisons and labor camps throughout North Korea. "We are deeply concerned for Mr. Son and those like him who are hidden behind the repressive walls of injustice surrounding North Korea," CSW National Director, Stuart Windsor told BosNewsLife.

200,000 PEOPLE IMPRISONED

Observers say there are at least 200,000 people imprisoned in North Korea's notorious prison camps. Christian rights groups Open Doors has put North Korea on top of its World Watch List of 50 countries with severe persecution of Christians.

Analysts say Christian believers 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.

STAMPING OUT CHRISTIANITY

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.

CSW said that "with the reform of the UN and the establishment of the new Human Rights Council, CSW and other agencies will be urging the UN to find an effective way to bring relief to the millions suffering in North Korea."

UN Special Rapporteurs, unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity, received their mandate from the now defunct UN Commission on Human Rights and will report to what they describe as "the newly established and enhanced Human Rights Council." (With BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife News Center and reports from the New York, London and North Korea).

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