Pastor Eric Foley of Voice of the Martyrs Korea has asked the international community of believers to pray as he awaits charges for launching Bible balloons into North Korea.
Last week, South Korean police recommended that prosecutors charge Foley, who has launched balloons carrying Bibles into North Korea for the last 15 years, on three counts, Mission Network News reports.
“One [count] is related to the violation of an inter-Korean exchange law. [This] is a law that regulates commerce between North and South Korea; anything you might be trying to sell from South Korea to North Korea would need to be pre-approved by the government,” Foley explained.
The second charge relates to national security. “These are laws designed for natural disaster management,” Foley said, “but now they’re being related to balloon launching with a charge that our activity created a national threat to Korea.”
Finally, “the third charge that will come out is one related to the use of high-pressure gas,” Foley added.
In June, South Korean police began cracking down on balloon launches following threats from North Korea. The announcement came after Kim Yo Jong — sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — said balloon senders were “human scum” and threatened to scrap a no-hostility military pact and shut down the North-South liaison office, among other threats.
Since then, Foley, who has been sending the Gospel to North Korea as part of a promise he made to underground North Korean Christians in 2003, has faced increasing harassment for his work.
World Magazine reports that in addition to investigating Foley for his work, they have blocked the pastor’s car from reaching the launch site and placed the Voice of the Martyrs Korea leaders’ homes and office under surveillance.
This summer, the Ministry of Unification began investigating 89 groups that address North Korean human rights issues or provide aid to defectors. Three groups, VOM Korea included, have received most of the authorities’ attention, according to Christian Post.
In July, the Ministry of Unification revoked the nongovernmental organization’s status of the other two groups — Fighters for a Free North Korea and Kuen Saem — claiming they are “seriously hindering the unification policy of the government.”
“We are the only ones that do Bibles,” Foley told MNN. “The other two launchers do flyers that are primarily focused on news events, and too often can be a political commentary on the situation in North Korea because North Korean defectors run both those organizations.”
While two of the groups mentioned above face additional charges related to embezzlement and mismanagement of donations, “we’re not charged with anything related to donations or fraud,” Foley said.
“We’re making a testimony that Christian organizations are different than political organizations. We act differently. We show respect for authority; we follow a higher standard in our current accounting practices.”
Foley explained that police recommending the charges “guarantees” that he will be charged, adding: “it’s just a question of when. Could be tomorrow, could be next week, could be next month; we don’t know.”
“Our case asks, ‘[Should] launching Bible balloons, which has been legal up until this point in time, be considered illegal not just going forward, but related to past launches?” Foley said.
“For 15 years, we’ve had a good relationship with the authorities. We’ve had police, military, even the intelligence services present at all of our launches. This year in a couple of launches, I asked the police, ‘is this illegal?’ And the police responded, ‘well, no, you just can’t do it here in this location,’” he continued.
VOM Korea has so far sent 600,000 Bibles into North Korea by balloon and other methods. World Magazine notes that the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights found that in 2000, nearly 0% of North Koreans said they’d seen a Bible. However, just 16 years later, the number had risen to 8%.
As he awaits charges, Foley has asked Christians to pray that despite the crackdown, the Gospel will continue to reach those in the hermit kingdom, which is ranked as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.
North Korea ranks as the worst country for Christian persecution on the annual Open Doors World Watch List. The organization estimates that many of the country’s own citizens — including around 50,000 believers — are being held in detention centers, prisons, or political camps.