My name is Hyeona Ji, and I escaped North Korea to seek my God-given freedom and I now have become a devout Christian living in South Korea.
In North Korea, a country ranked #1 for 18 years as the worst persecutor of Christians, the very idea of freedom and human rights is foreign. I never heard of or used those words while in North Korea, and they do not fit the North Korean society.
In North Korea, faith means being loyal to the Kim family dictatorship.
I first came across the Bible in North Korea. My mother went to China to find food during the difficult period in North Korea and brought back a small Bible which I read every day.
One day I was called to the local Ministry of State Security… and there, I was tortured and beaten for reasons unknown. I was then asked, did I come into contact with any South Korean intelligence agents? I said I didn’t know what you’re talking about, and that’s when the agent placed my Bible on his desk. He told me to explain what this is all about. At that moment, I felt my heart stop.
Because in North Korea, if you believe in any other God or gods besides the Kim Il-sung and the Kim family dictators, you would be sent to a political prison camp or executed. I knew I had to be quick-thinking, so I said I found it while I was walking around and I wanted to turn it in but I didn’t have time.
So, I lied. I had to lie because that was the only way I could survive and get out of that situation. The security agent told me he would check on this and he repeatedly told me if I did this again that he would not forgive me. He put fear in me and then released me.
I found out later that my best friend actually turned in the Bible and reported me to the authorities.
So, having faith in North Korea—where everyone monitored each other and surveilled each other—having faith was an impossible thing to do.
I escaped four times from North Korea, and I was repatriated by the Chinese authorities three times. During this process of escape and repatriation, I was sent to Prison Camp #11 – Labor Reform Prison Camp. And there, I was forced to do slave-like labor, and I saw so many people die from simple illnesses like diarrhea, starvation, and over-work.
The only thing the living could do for the dead in the prison camp was close the eyes of the people who passed away—who died in the prison camp.
Fortunately, I was released on Kim Jong Il’s birthday on February 16, 2000 from Prison Camp #11. I miraculously survived, and I escaped North Korea again. However, I was arrested by Chinese authorities and then repatriated back to North Korea again. At this point, I was three months pregnant.
The North Korean regime does not recognize mixed race children. So, North Korean security agents, they force these women who come back pregnant with Chinese babies—who are often sold into trafficking situations—to have forced abortions by carrying heavy cement blocks in detention facilities or being forced to do a repeated sitting down and standing up motion. Or, in the case of six month or longer pregnant North Korean defector women, they will… do medicinally induced abortion.
Every night, I heard the screams of women going through forced abortions in the prison camp.
I too could not avoid this fate, as I was three months pregnant with a half-Chinese, half-Korean baby in my womb.
Where they placed me was not a hospital bed, but it was a desk. And a fearful-looking doctor forcibly pried open my legs and inserted forceps and started killing my baby in my womb by cutting up and shredding my baby.
This was all done without any anesthesia used on me and the physical pain was so hard to endure.
I could hear the doctor being frustrated with the fact that the shredded parts of my baby… were not falling off the forceps.
So, he would bang the forceps against a dish to get rid of the pieces of my baby’s body. And that sound still rings in my ears to this day.
I cried out to God, “God, do you see this? How come I have to take this painful violent choice? Were my prayers not enough for you?”
And I heard the voice of God say back to me, “Does this hurt? Does this hurt a lot? Then now you understand what I went through when I sent my son to the world.” This is when I knew the heart of God.
And I determined that I would survive and I would tell the world about the Christian persecution of the North Korean regime and the human rights violations going on in the country and to spread the Good News of Jesus in North Korea.
And I escaped North Korea again.
Once I arrived in South Korea after my escape, I became an activist. And I am involved with work sending leaflets and Christian materials into North Korea via balloons and working as an activist.
And I also am taking this message throughout the world to tell the people all around the world about the human rights situation in North Korea.
My message is that human rights is the right for people to enjoy the freedom of God-given faith.
So, today, I want to share… three suggestions of how we can pressure the Chinese government, and, more importantly, the North Korean government, to stop the persecution of Christians.
First of all, North Korea is a country that kills people who believe in Jesus and persecutes them.
So, the U.S. Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, and this is where one of the articles… of the act says that countries of particular concern when it comes to religious persecution must face a punishment, diplomatically and through economic sanctions, so that they will change their ways. North Korea fits this perfectly.
Second, in China, North Korean women who are repatriated into North Korea who are pregnant are forced to undergo abortion… and there are currently 250,000 estimated refugees living in China. A lot of them have come into contact with Christianity and are attending churches.
North Korean defector women are investigated by Chinese authorities before being handed over to North Korean authorities. And as a result of the investigation, depending on how much exposure they’ve had to people from South Korea or Americans in China, they’re either sent to a total control zone political prison camp, or sent to a prison, or executed.
And China, while still being a member of the Security Council of the U.N., and also being a party to the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, they violate the rights of North Korean defectors. They do not recognize them as refugees. So, the voice against China calling out their actions must grow louder.
In closing, the principle of Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, says that countries should protect and help those who are facing persecution and are facing this sort of danger.
And so, I believe… that the international community should pressure the Chinese government to stop the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.
So, as Moses said to the Pharaoh, we cry out to the North Korean government, “Let my people go.”