A Christian Family Detained for life for Praying

There was a Christian woman from the city of Sariwon in the settlement. She had been arrested for explaining to a neighbor about a book she was reading. She was forced to divorce her husband and live in the settlement with their two young daughters.

One evening during an ideology session, a security officer cautioned her, “You bitch, listen carefully to what I say. I you are caught praying again, it’s the end for you, got it?” Then, the security officer turned towards the other prisoners and said, “This bitch is crazy!” At that time, I thought that praying was jail-breaking or some other serious offence.

At dawn a few days later, we heard distraught screaming and the angry voices of security officers. I stopped my break fast and ran outside. The Christian woman and her two little daughters were being beaten brutally by the security officers. In front of her house, there was a Russian truck, the same type of truck that brought us here. There were other prisoners in front of me who were also grieving for the. While they continued to scream, they were dumped onto the truck like cargo. The truck quickly disappeared form our sight. This is how I saw them last. None of us said anything but we all realized that they were headed for Yongpyong for life detention.

She always had a smile for other prisoner, a very rare quality in the settlement. She often hummed strange songs. Later, I was told that she believed in superstitious religion called Christianity. I was also told that she does a strange thing called praying. She said to herself, “O, Lord, my Lord,” when the work was very difficult. These works, of course, were strange to other prisoner. Except for this, she was like everyone else in the settlement.

Once, there was a big quarrel between one of her daughters and my sister over food ration. This was very common among the prisoners because the ration was not enough and usually the stronger got the better of it. The mother took the corn back from her daughter’s hand and quietly handed it to my sister. Her daughter protested, “Mom, then what do I eat?” The woman started to tell her tearful daughter a very strange story. “ Once upon a time, God’s son was born in a country for away. He taught us, “Don’t worry about having food and clothing because God will take care of us.” She comforted her crying daughter as they both walked away.

The security officers were very tough on her and watched her very closely, paying close attention to every word she said. Naturally, she was given the most difficult work. One day during an ideology session, security officers ordered her to criticize herself. They said that they caught her committing a crime red-handed the previous night.

When we returned home from the ideology session that night, my father and uncle continued to talk about the woman.

“I am afraid something is going to happen to her,” said my father.

“I have the same feeling too. That security officer sure had his suspicious eyes on her,” my uncle concurred.

“Well, she is pretty but she probably isn’t going to make it easy for him, I guess,” said my father.

“ The s.o.b.s! They forced her to divorce her husband and brought them here. isn’t that enough/ why do they want to punish her more?” my father added.

“ Don’t you know, my brother, that security officers are beasts, not human beings. They do every thing according to their wills don’t they?” my uncle responded.

Kang Chul Hwan
Mr. Kang Chul Hwan, a former child prisoner in a North Korean primary detention settlement, was born in 1968 in Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea. He was only nine years old when his grandfather disappeared one day and he was arrested and detained in the Yodok primary detention settlement together with his grandmother, father, uncle and a sister in 1977. They were released after ten years in 1987. In 1992 he and Mr. Ahn Hyok, also a former prisoner in the same settlement, defected to South Korea. He studied business administration at Hanyang University, Seoul, and he is a journalist of the Chosun Daily.
He is co-founder of Democracy Network against North Korea Gulag, an NGO organized by North Korean defectors.