Trump and Kim discussed religious persecution? Scant media accounts leave us guessing

It sure has been interesting seeing President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un operating within a few feet of each other this week.

It was tough for media to glean much from the meeting of the two men, although the prevalent press opinion seems to be that Trump got the lesser part of the deal. In describing the North Korean leader, most reporters linked this phrase -- “systematic murder (including infanticide), torture, persecution of Christians, rape, forced abortions, starvation and overwork leading to countless deaths” -- to him, quoting the International Bar Association.

"Persecution" of Christians and other religious minorities?

Did any news reports go any further than that with the religion angle? The New York Times’ headline says: Atrocities Under Kim Jong-un: Indoctrination, Prison Gulags, Executions. Which meant, specifically:

North Korea considers the spread of most religions dangerous, but Christianity is considered a “particularly serious threat” because it “provides a platform for social and political organization and interaction outside the realm of the State,” according to the United Nations report.
Christians are barred from practicing their religion, and those caught doing so are “subject to severe punishments,” the report found. North Korean leaders also conflate Christians with those detained in prison camps, those who try to flee and “others considered to introduce subversive influences,” the report stated.
In interviews with The New York Times in 2012, four North Koreans said that they had been warned that the gulag awaited those who spoke to journalists or Christian missionaries. “If the government finds out I am reading the Bible, I’m dead,” one woman said.
In its 2018 World Watch List, the Christian group Open Doors ranked North Korea the worst nation in the world for Christians, and in a statement last week, the group called on Christians to take part in 24 hours of prayer and fasting on Monday ahead of the meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

That was the most description I could find about an estimated 50,000 Christians imprisoned in North Korea’s gulags.

Fox News had a piece about Christians in Singapore and South Korea praying for the summit. They had one line about North Korea being “the number one most dangerous country for Christians for the last 17 years.”

If you want more description about that, this Christian News Wire piece is a good place to start. On Monday, CBS ran a piece about North Korea’s “alleged” human rights abuses (seriously, folks, we’re way past the ‘alleged’ stage, don’t you think?) that included:

A 2017 report by the International Bar Association estimates that the North is holding between 80,000–130,000 political prisoners, and these prisoners are being subjected to intense persecution. IBA's report cites gruesome evidence of crimes against humanity committed in North Korea's political prisons. According to the report, these include "systematic murder (including infanticide), torture, persecution of Christians, rape, forced abortions, starvation and overwork leading to countless deaths." 
The IBA report describes specific incidents of prisoners tortured and killed for their religious affiliation. Officials, the report said, were told "to wipe out the seed of [Christian] reactionaries."

RNS, trying to find a unique angle, had this opinion piece by Diane Winston about South Korean Christians’ hope for reunification, based on a previous visit she made to the country. It did not mention North Korea’s persecution of its Christians although it had some interesting facts about churches that help defectors settle in South Korea.

Beyond the obvious religious-media players, such as CBN, which mentioned the persecution angle here, there wasn’t a whole lot else out there.

Aleteia, a Catholic site, offered some gruesome details about how Christians are treated in detention centers “even worse than Auschwitz.” Which is saying a lot.

For all of you who wonder what did happen, here’s the transcript of what Trump said at a press conference about religious persecution. Notice he says he brought up the topic. (Kim Jong Un sure wasn’t going to).  

Reporter: What part did Japan play and the fate of the Christians and the follow-up question is when will you do an interview with Japanese TV? 50,000 troops are in Japan.
Trump: That’s true. 50,000 great troops. This is Prime Minister Abe’s concern. Other than the denuking subject, I would say his main point. I brought it up, absolutely. They will work on that. We did not put it down in the document. It will be worked on. Christians, yes.
We brought it up. Franklin Graham spent and spends a tremendous amount of time in North Korea. He has it close to his heart. It did come up and things will be happening….

The Franklin Graham angle is an interesting one and one wonders how much he and Trump have talked recently. This South China Morning Post piece in February suggested that this member of the Graham family may not be that much of an expert on North Korea.

I hope reporters keep on pressing home the religion angle. As it says in the last line of the SCMP piece, those in the prison camps are where Christianity is truly found in North Korea.

FIRST IMAGE: Official photo released by the White House.

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