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Crackdown targets SK missionaries helping defectors in China

Crackdown targets SK missionaries helping defectors in China

Posted May. 31, 2012 04:35,   

한국어

In Chinese areas bordering North Korea, South Korean underground churches are being used as shelters for North Korean defectors and missionary work targeting North Koreans.

The churches are being targeted by Chinese public security officials ahead of the upcoming shift in China`s leadership this fall. Since Kim Jong Un took over the leadership in North Korea, the churches have tightened management of defectors in facing more dangerous threats from Pyongyang.

The Dong-A Ilbo recently reported on activities by these underground forces near the Tumen River.

People in the churches sang gospel songs at low volume and with no musical accompaniment, fearing that they would be heard from the outside. Eleven people including the pastor were present. As small as about 10 square meters, the room would have looked ordinary had it not been a cross. Sponge panels covered the floor to keep the cold out and the door was tightly locked.

One missionary managed two to three followers at a relatively big church near the North Korea-Chinese border. The men and women who showed up were in their 40s to 60s, and prayed and read the Bible at a home that someone had lent.

Several of the people had defected from the North, and others were North Korean nationals who had come to China on a three-month visa for visiting relatives but chose to stay there after becoming Christian.

They started the day with a prayer at dawn, attended a worship service in the morning, and studied the Bible in the afternoon. They mostly stayed inside the home, which had two rooms and a bathroom.

One defector said, "We can`t think of going out because North Korean agents are looking for suspicious people here."

People also use assumed names for fear that they will be ratted out to North Korean agents if their friends are captured. They use the names "Pyong 1" or "Pyong 2" to refer to people who came from Pyongyang. The pastor is called `Mr."

Missionaries as well as defectors are on high alert. The pastor also refrains from calling acquaintances due to the threat of wiretapping, and sending email is avoided due to hacking risks. A pastor who had been operating a culture group in Dandong was recently deported to South Korea, and another had to pay a huge fine for helping a defector and was also deported.

A source at South Korean government said, "Since the plight of North Korean defectors has been raised internationally this year, China has tightened its crackdown and forced 400 to 500 missionaries out of the country."

Other voices say the real problem is the Chinese government`s failure to protect foreigners outside of their legal reach. One missionary said, "North Korea can`t promote terrorism on foreigners because of China, but the situation is different when a foreigner violates Chinese law."

Missionary sources also say a 40-something missionary who died last year in Dandong was most likely poisoned by North Korean authorities.



koh@donga.com