Group details human rights violations in N. Korea

Jo Sung-rae spoke yesterday in Cambridge during a service advocating political and religious freedom for North Koreans. Jo Sung-rae spoke yesterday in Cambridge during a service advocating political and religious freedom for North Koreans. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / October 10, 2010

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CAMBRIDGE — Like some of the stories he studies in the Bible, Steven Kim’s undoing — and eventually his redemption — began with a betrayal.

In late 2003, Kim, then 55, was hiding nine people he had led out of North Korea in an apartment in the Chinese province of Canton.

The refugees had fled starvation, as famine in North Korea had killed hundreds of thousands, he said.

As the group of Christians prayed, armed Chinese police broke down the door and apprehended Kim and his group. One of the refugees had been forced into spying for the Chinese after the police captured her husband.

“To gain his release, she had to inform on us,’’ Kim said in a phone interview yesterday.

Kim was arrested and jailed in China for four years under a criminal code that forbids anyone from aiding a North Korean refugee. After he was released in late 2007, he scoured the Bible and found what he described as God’s call to action.

Kim, who now runs 318 Partners Mission Foundation, is one of a half-dozen who told their story of religious and political oppression under Kim Jong Il’s regime last evening at Harvard Korean Mission Church.

Kim named his group in part after a Bible verse, Genesis 14:14, in which 318 warriors go on a mission to rescue the endangered.

Members of various political and Christian groups, including Kim’s, held a prayer vigil and conference to show solidarity against what the organizing group, Freedom & Life for All North Koreans, says is the untenable violation of human rights.

Steps from Harvard University, about 70 people gathered for the multimedia prayer vigil.

A band and choir singing in Korean, near a video screen playing a PowerPoint presentation, led the proceedings.

The congregants swayed and sang at the start of what was scheduled to be a four-hour service. Organizers said they planned to broadcast the service by short- and medium-wave radio to those in North Korea who have been driven underground by the government.

Among those scheduled to take part via prerecorded message was Robert Park, an American citizen who was held by North Korea for 43 days after he crossed the border at Christmas last year.

Park cofounded Freedom & Life along with Jo Sung-rae who heads Pax Koreana, a leading conservative Christian opinion website in South Korea.

Park and Jo brought together leaders to educate Americans and Korean-Americans, whose generation they say will be responsible for reunifying the fractured peninsula.

“Our end goal is not just reunification, but the right to worship God in public,’’ said Jo, speaking through an interpreter. “In the same spirit, just as the Puritans sought religious freedom, we seek religious freedom for North Korea’s people.’’

Jo said Park was expected to address the crowd in a video message that details his spread of the gospel during his time the North.

“He made a sacrifice, and he spread the gospel to the leaders of North Korea,’’ Jo said. “Since they recognize how powerful the gospel is, they’ve been trying to create fissures in the Christian groups.’’

Jo said the gathering last night was to counter what he described as North Korea’s official policy of divisiveness.

“Different groups will be gathered — South Koreans, North Koreans, defectors, Americans — all will be together to hear this cause from God.’’

Matt Byrne can be reached at

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