North Korea: Personality Cults, Prison Camps & Christians

North Korea (formally known as the DPRK) is the world’s strangest and most isolated nations. For sixty years, North Koreans have been governed by a brutal and corrupt totalitarian regime. A bizarre cult of personality surrounds its three most recent leaders: Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un; they are deified and seemingly worshiped by the entire population. Even in death the cult of personality endures; take Kim Jong Il for example – he has the dual monikers of ‘Eternal General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea’ and ‘Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission’. Not to be outdone by his son,  Kin Il Sung retains the immodest titles “The Great Leader” and ‘Eternal President’. Difficult to guess what titles remain for the most recently anointed Kim in this twisted dynasty.

DPRK newsreels project a warped image of the leadership and the state of the country to its inhabitants and beyond.  Grinding poverty and cynical lack of freedom of speech and expression are never mentioned, nor is the existence of prison camps containing dissenters. The systematic oppression and suffering that the North Korean people endure make no news headlines.

Many groups are persecuted in this eremetical kingdom. Consider Christians as one example.  According to an article in Religion Today, ‘Ryan Morgan, an analyst with International Christian Concern Asia. “The regime still has up to 70,000 Christians locked away in virtual concentration camps.” Morgan added that a Christian believer and three generations of his or her family can still go to prison for life just for owning a Bible. “We’re hoping and praying this changes soon, but we haven’t seen any sign of it yet.”  (

To get an idea of what life is like for Christians – and others – in these infamous detention centres, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a documentary entitled ‘Kimjongilia‘ recently. The film was named after a hybrid begonia symbolizing wisdom, love, justice, and peace created for Kim Jong Il’s 46th birthday. It tells the extraordinary and moving stories of a selection of survivors and escapees from North Korea’s vast prison camp system. In a series of powerful and emotional interviews with refugees, their experiences are laid bare; a number talk of the selfless actions of Christian missionaries in helping them to reach safety in South Korea.

Interspersed with archival footage of North Korean propaganda films and original scenes that bring to the fore the realities of daily life for a subjugated people, the film is a powerful exposition of the perils of totalitarianism and the horrific human rights abuses that are employed to prop up such heartless regimes.

You can watch the entire documentary on youtube here: 

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