All the world knows now about deacon Jang Moon Seok is that he was abducted by North Korean agents in China six years ago and has been languishing in a forced labor camp ever since.
His “crime?” Jang gave food, clothes, a warm bed, and the love of God to the hungry, naked, cold, and desperate refugees who fled across the border, Voice of the Martyrs spokesman Todd Nettleson told The Christian Post.
In old pictures, Jang is seen looking at the camera with a wide, neutral expression and neatly brushed black hair. Now, no one knows for certain whether he’s still alive.
“Kidnapped people are captured, gagged, blindfolded and handcuffed, and put on transportation to North Korea,” said executive director of the Committee for Human rights in North Korea, Greg Scarlatoiu, in an interview with CP.
From a court which accused him of “defaming the regime, attempting to incite subversion of state power and providing aid and Gospel to North Koreans,” Jang, a deacon, received a sentence of 15 years. He is not old, but he will likely die a prisoner.
“The life expectancy in a prison camp in North Korea is less than 15 years,” Nettleson said.
“He would be subjected to forced labor, working, farming, planting apple trees or other kinds of tasks,” Scarlatoiu said.
Jang is likely lonely and separated from other prisoners, he said. He has probably been tortured, Nettleson stressed. Both believe Jang might be dead.
Nettleson said that Jang is known to his friends as a faithful man.
“This is a guy who’s faithful to the work, to the Kingdom,” he said. “He’s willing to take the risks. They knew in their ministry there were threats.”
Seventeen months after Jang’s kidnapping, North Korean agents crossed the border again to murder Pastor Han Chung-Ryeol, the leader of Jang’s church.
“The killers of Pastor Han were honored in a televised ceremony in North Korea,” Nettleson said.
A Chinese citizen, Jang Moon Seok has the Chinese name of Zhang Wen Shi. But China’s government seems to have forgotten that name. China has done nothing to save Jang from prison, Nettleson said. When North Korean agents cross the border to kidnap and kill, the Chinese government does nothing, he added.
“The Chinese government allows North Korean agents to come across the border, snatch Chinese citizens and carry them back to North Korea. They’re not only not standing up for their citizens, they’re actively participating in abuse,” he said.
“We are deeply concerned by the DPRK’s imprisonment of prisoners of conscience such as Deacon Jang Moon Seok. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom adopted Deacon Jang as part of its Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project,” a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told CP.
North Korea has a long history of kidnapping people into slavery, Scarlatoiu said. No one knows how many people the North Koreans have taken. The reasons for the kidnapping depend from person to person. Some are taken to train North Korean workers, others to train North Korean spies, and others because they threaten the regime, he said.
North Korea kidnapped Jang because Christianity threatens the regime, Scarlatoiu said.
“Christianity poses a grave challenge to the regime’s ideology and grip on power, so they truly resent Christianity,” he said. “Believers, if apprehended, are sent to prison camps. Tortured. Killed.”
The captured are never released, he said.
“There’s only one instance of a release,” Scarlatoiu said. “That happened in 2002. Who is going to take this up? What government will take up his case? Who can really come up with the pressure and the attention needed to secure his release? It has to come from civil society.”
Nettleson said Christians can best help Jang by praying he gets enough food today, that God protects him from evil in prison, and that he will know God and other believers remember him. Nettleson said other Christians he’s interviewed who were imprisoned for their faith have known when people around the world prayed for them.
People who want to help can also email the North Korean U.N. delegation. VOM suggests sending only the simple phrase, “We request the return of Chinese citizen Zhang Wen Shi (Deacon Jang Moon Seok 장문석) to China.”