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International Ministry Launches Worldwide Campaign to Save North Korean Facing Death for Christian Faith

Presidential Candidate, Other Senators, Lend Support to Effort

Contact: Alex Coffin, 704-364-2049, Download press kit and photos at www.persecution.com/media

PYONGYANG, North Korea, July 10 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), an international organization that assists persecuted Christians around the world, today launched a worldwide campaign to free a North Korean man awaiting public execution for the crime of simply being a Christian.

Photo: Son Jong Nam, April 2004, Yeongil, China

For more than a year, Son Jong Nam, former North Korean Army officer turned underground evangelist, has been beaten, tortured and held in a bleak, North Korean death row basement jail in this capital city. He has been sentenced to public execution as an example to the North Korean people.

VOM has been joined in the initiative by U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a noted supporter of human rights for North Korean refugees. Brownback sent letters last week, also signed by Senators Baucus (D-Mont.), Durbin (D-Ill.), Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Vitter (R-La.), asking U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to work to secure the release of the Christian prisoner.

VOM is calling on people in the United States and around the world to write letters and send emails on Son Jong Nam's behalf. They are directed to go to VOM web site www.prisoneralert.com, where they can compose a personal letter of support and encouragement to Son. The letter is to be mailed to the North Korean delegation to the United Nations, along with a cover letter asking the North Korean government to spare Son's life, release him from prison immediately, report on his current status and deliver the personal letter to Son.

In addition, people are encouraged to send emails to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.S. Department of State, asking that they intervene on Son's behalf.

"We are asking for prayers for Mr. Son, but also that people around the world take action on his behalf," said Todd Nettleton, director of media development for VOM. "Jesus said ministering to a prisoner was like ministering to Himself. Every letter and email can make a difference."

In his letters to Secretary of State Rice and Secretary General Ban, Sen. Brownback wrote: "Future cooperation and engagement with North Korea will be far more challenging if its leaders continue to persecute their own people for religious views. The United States has made political and religious freedoms important elements in its diplomatic relations, and we are gravely concerned about abuses of such basic rights in North Korea."

Some years ago Son complained to the North Korean Central People's Committee when his wife, while being investigated by the secret police, was kicked in the stomach and miscarried. He made plans to leave North Korea after being pressured to drop the matter.

Son defected to China in 1998 with his wife, son and brother. His wife died after arriving there. It was in China that he met a South Korean missionary and became a Christian. Mr. Son continued his religious studies and felt called to be an evangelist in North Korea.

But before he could return home, Son was arrested by Chinese police in 2001 and sent back to North Korea, charged with sending missionaries into his native country. He was imprisoned and brutally tortured for three years. Many of his 200 fellow inmates were Christians, imprisoned themselves for studying theology in China. Many died within six months.

Son was released on parole in May 2004 and expelled from Pyongyang to Chongjin to work at a rocket research institute. However, his health was so bad when he was released that he was unable to walk. But after receiving medical treatment, he went back to China to meet with his brother.

Son was arrested again when he returned to North Korea in January 2006, and has remained in prison since. The last word of him came in February. It is suspected that because he is being kept in the capitol city, North Korean officials view him as a special case and perhaps are keeping him alive, if barely, for unknown reasons.

According to Nettleton, North Korea, a one-man dictatorship with communist influence, is one of the most repressive and isolated regimes in the world and denies every kind of human right to its citizens. The country's previous leader, Kim Il Sung, founded an ideology called "juche," meaning "self-reliance," which is enforced in every aspect of the culture by the ruling elite. Kim Jong Il, the son of deceased leader Kim Il Sung, currently leads the country. In North Korea, both Kims are considered deities.

"All religions have been harshly repressed in North Korea," said Nettleton. "Thousands of Christians have been murdered since the Korean War. In 1953, there were an estimated 300,000 Christians; however, the number is much lower today. Christians must practice their faith in deep secrecy and are in constant danger."

There are three official churches in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, said Nettleton, but they are only for show. Many North Koreans have fled to China, some of them Christians, and have been known to return to North Korea to share the gospel, he said.

"Any North Korean sent back by the Chinese government faces almost certain death if it is discovered they've had contact with Christians in China," Nettleton said.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) issued a report June 19 accusing North Korea of international crimes against humanity, and recommended the United Nations establish a commission of inquiry. The report said a "prima facie" case exists that North Korea has committed "murder, extermination, enslavement/forced persecution, enforced disappearance of persons, other inhumane acts and perhaps rape and sexual violence."

VOM has been launching helium-filled balloons, printed with either the Gospel of Mark or the text of a tract called "How to Know God" into North Korea for years, said Nettleton. They also smuggle in copies of an audio drama called "He Lived Among Us" and have sent copies of The New Testament in Korean to northern China through a VOM program called "Bibles Unbound."

The Voice of the Martyrs, headquartered in Bartlesville, Okla., is a non-profit, interdenominational organization with a vision for aiding Christians around the world who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ, fulfilling the "Great Commission" and educating the world about the ongoing persecution of Christians.