Evangelist facing execution in N. Korea


WASHINGTON — Evangelist Son Jong Nam reportedly is awaiting public execution for sharing his faith in Christ in North Korea, but a U.S. senator and a ministry to the persecuted church are working to rescue him.

Son's planned execution would follow more than a year of torture in a death row basement jail in Pyongyang and is intended to send a message to other North Koreans that Christianity will not be tolerated, according to Voice of the Martyrs (VOM).

Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., a presidential candidate and a champion of human rights in North Korea, has teamed up with VOM, an Oklahoma-based ministry that aids persecuted Christians around the world, in an effort to secure the release of Son.

Brownback sent letters July 6 to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explaining Son's plight and pleading for intervention. The letters also were signed by Sens. Max Baucus, D.-Mont.; Richard Durbin, D.-Ill.; James Inhofe, R.-Okla.; and David Vitter, R.-La.

An excerpt from the letters reads: "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."

Son's younger brother, Son Jong Hoon, appeared at a July 12 news conference sponsored by Brownback and VOM at the National Press Club in Washington to request that the world pressure North Korea to release Son.

"My only purpose in life right now is to save my brother," Son said at the news conference, according to a written release. "I pray to God for my brother's safety."

VOM is asking people in the United States and around the world to send letters and e-mails directly to Son through its website, www.prisoneralert.com. The letters will be mailed to the North Korean delegation to the United Nations with a plea to the North Korean government to spare Son's life and release him from prison immediately.

People also are encouraged to send e-mails to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.S. Department of State requesting intervention to release Son.

Todd Nettleton, VOM's director of media development, requested help in a news release from the organization: "We are asking for prayers for Mr. Son, but also that people around the world take action on his behalf. Jesus said ministering to a prisoner was like ministering to Himself. Every letter and e-mail can make a difference."

Son fled North Korea in 1998 for China, where he met a South Korean missionary and became a Christian, according to a VOM news release. A former North Korean soldier, Son felt called to be an evangelist in North Korea. However, Son was arrested by Chinese police in 2001 and sent back to North Korea, charged with sending missionaries into his home country.

Son was imprisoned and tortured for three years with 200 inmates, many of whom were Christians arrested for their faith, according to VOM; most died within six months. He was released on parole in 2004. After again fleeing to China to see his brother, Son was arrested when he returned to North Korea, where he has been imprisoned since January 2006.

North Korea is a communist dictatorship with one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, denying the most basic rights to its citizens. The government of Kim Jong Il is especially repressive of Christians and other religious adherents. North Korea is one of eight governments designated by the State Department as "countries of particular concern," a category reserved for the world's most severe religious persecutors.


To do
Letters to Son may be sent by visiting www.prisoneralert.com.
Voice of the Martyrs is directing people go to its web site, www.prisoneralert.com, where they can compose a personal letter of support and encouragement to Son.


Compiled by Jennifer Thurman — BP news