The People’s Republic of North Korea is surely the nearest thing we have to an Orwellian totalitarian state

As anyone who reads the Catholic Herald will know, Christians are being persecuted throughout the world. Our attention has been focused on the Middle East of late, but we should not forget the other places where to be Christian is to risk imprisonment and even death. One such place is North Korea.

The People’s Republic of North Korea is probably the nearest thing we have to George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian state. We know very little about what goes on in North Korea, given that the regime exercises such severe control over all aspects of life in the “hermit kingdom”. There have been a few accounts of life in the North published by those who have escaped. Escape is not easy: one can cross into China, but if caught there, one will be repatriated and severely punished. Escapees either have to get to a third country or else claim asylum in a foreign embassy. China is North Korea’s enabler, and without Chinese support, North Korea would probably collapse; the Chinese value it not for ideological reasons, one assumes, but because it is a buffer between them and the pro-American South Korea.

One account written by an escapee is The Aquariums of Pyongyang. The account it gives of life in a concentration camp, where rats are a delicacy, is truly harrowing.

Therefore we should be very worried by the fate of a Presbyterian pastor of Canadian nationality, who has recently been arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for “anti-state” activities. Hyeon Soon Lim must have known the risks he was running by visiting the North, but this should not distract us from his plight, or the plight of all the North’s population, who groan under the world’s worst tyranny. We don’t know how many Christians there are in North Korea, as their activities are underground, apart from a few state-sponsored pseudo-churches. The Catholic Church has no priests in North Korea, or at least none we know about.

Praying for change in North Korea would be a good intention to take up over the Christmas period. It would be a comfort to Christians in the North to know that they are not forgotten. And let us pray too for the Reverend Hyeon Soon Lim.