By BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
SEOUL/NEW YORK (BosNewsLife)– Supporters of American Christian missionary Robert Park, who is believed to have been detained in North Korea, launched hundreds of balloons on New Year’s day with texts calling for freedom in the isolated nation.
The yellow balloons containing leaflets condemning the North Korean leadership were released from South Korea near the border, confirmed activist Choi Woo-won. “Greeting the New Year, we are delivering our messages of freedom and hope to North Korea,” he told reporters.
The action came a day after an overseas prayer vigil in front of the North Korean diplomatic mission in New York, participants told BosNewsLife. “We held a very successful prayer vigil and demonstration outside the North Korean diplomatic office in New York,” demonstrator Dr. Stephen Price said.
“There were at least 50 persons present and although we were monitored by the [US] State Department, the event brought the attention of many to the plight of North Korean citizens,” added Dr. Price who recently visited North Korea on medical missions.
Before crossing into North Korea on Christmas Day, without permission, Park said he saw it as his duty as a Christian to make the journey and be a voice for those reportedly persecuted for their faith.
Park, who is originally from Tucson, Arizona, carried with him a letter urging North Korean leader Kim Jong-II to free political prisoners, including Christians, shut down “the concentration camps” where they are held, and open the borders to allow aid teams to enter.
He wrote: “Please open your borders so that we may bring food, provisions, medicine, necessities, and assistance to those who are struggling to survive. Please close down all concentration camps and release all political prisoners today, and allow care teams to enter to minister healing to those who have been tortured and traumatized.”
Park added, “All we are asking is for all North Koreans to be free, safe and have life. With Love, Respect and Goodwill towards All People.”
Critics of the North Korean leadership have said it is against reform and that people have been tortured and even executed for opposing the regime or holding Christian worship services.
The 28-year-old missionary has made clear he does not want the U.S. government to try to free him.
On Friday, January 1, activists supporting his human rights efforts burned a North Korean national flag near the border of North Korea, denouncing its Communist regime and urging Pyongyang to “liberate” its people, television footage showed.
The Chief Executive of advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Mervyn Thomas, said his group has known Robert Park for several years, “and we know him to be a man of deep courage, faith and commitment who has been serving North Korean refugees and campaigning to draw the world’s attention to the horrific violations of human rights in North Korea.”
Some Christian leaders have criticized Parks’ decision to cross into North Korea illegally as “reckless”. But Thomas said CSW believes “the international community should take this opportunity not only to appeal for his immediate release, but also to increase political and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to open up its prison camps for international inspection…”
Additionally, Thomas said, the world should help “bring an end to its grotesque abuse of human rights, which is among the very worst in the world. We also urge the international community, including the United States, to ensure that human rights concerns feature in every dialogue with the North Koreans, alongside security issues.”
He said his group had urged Christians around the world “to pray for Robert Park and for North Korea, and that his brave act on Christmas Day might not have been in vain.”
North Korea has so far not made any known statement about Park.
There has been some concern among American observers that the case may undermine Washington’s leverage to get North Korea back to the six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
However in a New Years message, the official Korean Central News Agency said the North is committed to making the Korean Peninsula “nuclear-free through dialogue and negotiations.”