‘I Was Shocked By Freedom’: Defectors Reflect On Life In North Korea

Watching footage of April’s military parades in North Korea — with soldiers marching in formation to patriotic tunes — Lee So-yeon recalls all the steps. She was once one of those soldiers.

The daughter of a university professor, Lee, now 41, grew up in North Korea’s North Hamgyong province. But when famine devastated the country in the 1990s, women — including Lee — volunteered for the military in droves, often for the food rations.

Since 2014, North Korean women have been drafted for seven years of mandatory military service. Men serve 10 to 12 years. For each gender, those are the longest conscription terms in the world.

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Lee joined the North Korean army in 1992 and served nearly 10 years, mostly in a desk job with the signal corps. But on holidays, she had to march.

“All of us soldiers had to march,” she recalls in an interview inside a glass-and-steel skyscraper in South Korea’s capital, Seoul. “It unified us, and showed off our strength to the outside world.”

In the military, Lee says, she witnessed sexual abuse and violence against female soldiers. She tried to defect but was imprisoned and tortured. Finally, in 2008, she managed to sneak across the Tumen River to China.

“I was shocked by freedom — that I didn’t need permission to do anything!” Lee recalls. “I couldn’t believe there was hot water, hair dryers! I could vote for whomever I wanted. And all the food!”

Lee has since become an advocate for female defectors as head of the New Korea Women’s Union, based in western Seoul. But from her time in the military, she is able to offer insight into what the North Korean government wants its own people to know — and what it’s like to be inside one of the most secretive regimes in the world at times of heightened tension with the West.

When she was a soldier, state TV blasted nonstop in her office, she says.

“There’s a TV in every army barracks. When there was a nuclear test, state TV told us to feel proud, so we did,” Lee says. “Even when there were peace talks between North and South Korea, state TV told us it was a ploy by the South to take over our country.”

The media in North Korea do not merely report information. Instead, they’re a tool for the regime to stir emotion, especially when it feels threatened — as it does now, says Jeon Young-sun, a professor of North Korea studies in Seoul.

“Outside pressure on North Korea — sanctions or threats of attack — actually help the regime win domestic support,” Jeon says. “North Korea is as always on the defensive, and fear rallies people around their Dear Leader.”

It’s not just soldiers. Defector Lee Hyeonseo was a high school student in 1994, when the Clinton administration came close to a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. Her school ended classes and sent the students out digging trenches for months.

“We were so scared at the time. We really thought we were going to have a war,” says Lee, 36. (She is not related to Lee So-yeon, with whom she shares a surname.) “And then, we were proud. Somehow, we believed we were going to win that war, because our dear leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, they were superior gods who can make everything happen.”

Lee wrote a 2015 memoir of her escape from North Korea, The Girl With Seven Names, about how she used fake identities to escape across China and, finally, years later, to Seoul. She also helped bring her mother and brother to safety in Seoul.

The family still talks occasionally to relatives inside North Korea, who live close enough to China to pick up a Chinese cellphone network. But authorities are cracking down, Lee says. She recently spoke with her aunt, asking what it feels like inside North Korea now, after President Trump warned of “major, major conflict” with Pyongyang. But they’re unable to talk on the phone in confidence and can’t speak for very long. Lee couldn’t get a real answer from her aunt.

“It’s really, really difficult right now. After only one minute, the GPS reveals [to North Korean authorities] where the phone call is taking place,” Lee explains. “People are super scared.”

Many defectors, having been exposed to North Korean propaganda for so long, cannot leave it behind.

At one point during NPR’s interview with Lee So-yeon, the former North Korean soldier, she began to sing — an old army song, about becoming a bullet for the Dear Leader.

Lee laughs and says she realizes how strange it is to sing a North Korean propaganda song in Seoul, the capital of what the song’s lyrics call a “puppet regime.”

“But I was brainwashed,” she says. “And that’s what’s scary.”

(by NPR)

North Korean defectors create new lives in South Korea

An estimated 30,000 North Korean defectors live in South Korea today, according to the South Korean government. After defectors arrive, the government trains them in social customs and job skills, and gives resettlement payments to assist with housing and education costs. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Karla Murthy looks at several of their stories.

KARLA MURTHY: Twenty six year old Park Young Ho runs this food truck at a horse racetrack just outside Seoul, the capital of South Korea. With race fans streaming in all day, he’s well positioned to sell his sandwiches.

PARK YOUNG HO: I sold about 200 sandwiches on Friday, 300 on Saturday, 500 on Sunday.

KARLA MURTHY: Despite the ups and downs of the food business, Park enjoys the work- and is optimistic about the future. But 15 years ago, his life was very different. Park spent his childhood across the border in North Korea where a repressive totalitarian regime deprives its people of freedom and food.

PARK YOUNG HO: We left North Korea, because we didn’t have enough food. I didn’t have any food eat for a week and I got really sick. My brother saw that and convinced me and my dad that we would all die unless we left the country. So I can imagine I might have been dead by now if we didn’t come here.

KARLA MURTHY: When Park was 11, he fled with his 19-year-old brother through China into Thailand and finally, South Korea. They resettled in Seoul, where their lives changed dramatically.

PARK YOUNG HO: When I first got here, it struck me the various, wide kinds of food that I had not seen in the north. So many kinds.

KARLA MURTHY: But Park had a hard time adjusting to his new life. Because he didn’t know how to read or write at first, he was teased in school. He caught up and graduated high school. Now, he’s in college majoring in business and running his food truck on the weekends.

PARK YOUNG HO: Hopefully, it will become then 10 trucks, then 100 trucks. I would like to try all different types of food trucks. Also I would like to continue working with my friends, young people.

KARLA MURTHY: Park got help starting his food truck business from a South Korean government program that aids defectors. Grants from its corporate partners covered the startup costs of his truck.

The food truck phenomenon has only come to South Korea in the last couple of years, after the government lifted a ban due to safety and sanitation concerns. Now there are over 100 food trucks like these operating in the country and these two are owned by North Korean defectors.

Kim Kyong Bin sells meat kebabs and snacks in this food truck. Despite the freedom and better quality of life, she says adjusting to South Korea was a challenge.

KIM KYONG BIN: When you say you are from the north, people treat you differently, like an outsider. Also they might look down on you a bit. That was difficult – trying to be like a South Korean, so that you can be treated fairly.

KARLA MURTHY: Kim and her husband are among the estimated 30-thousand North Korean defectors living in South Korea today, according to the South Korean government. After defectors arrive, the government trains them in social customs and job skills…and gives resettlement payments to assist with housing and education costs. Park hopes one day North Koreans like him will be able to enjoy the liberties he has found in South Korea.

PARK YOUNG HO: In the north you’re not even allowed to visit neighboring villages freely, even if you have money. You have to ask for permits from the government and you’re allowed to travel only on certain dates. We are the generation to prepare for the unification of the Koreas.

(by PBS)

Kim Jong-Un’s Reign of Terror Speeds Demise of His Regime

In last May, The New York Times posted a quiz on its website asking readers how well they know the nicknames of 12 current and previous world dictators and autocrats. Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared in the first question, and the nicknames of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un of North Korea were also asked in this order.

They have interesting nicknames, indeed: Kim Il-Sung is called the Great Leader; Kim Jong-Il the Dear Leader; and, Kim Jong-Un the Great Successor.

The Great Successor seems to be quite annoyed by recent defections of high-ranking officials, including Tae Yong-Ho, a senior North Korean diplomat in London. Kim Jong-Un has strengthened his reign of terror since he took power, driving more people, even the elite, to flee their homeland. Kim had executed over 100 high-ranking officials by the end of last year since his accession to the throne, according to the Institute for National Security Strategy in South Korea.

In December 2013, Kim publicly executed Jang Song-Taek, his uncle and second-in-command, signaling the start of his reign of terror. In April 2015, Hyon Yong-Chol, the second-highest military officer, was reportedly executed by firing squad for falling asleep in a meeting with the leader. More recently, it has been confirmed that Kim Yong-Chol, the head of the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party, underwent “revolutionary education” and Kim Yong-Jin, the vice premier for education, was executed. It is known that the top education official was punished for his “bad sitting posture”, and Kim Yong-Chol, one of the closest aides to the leader, received re-education because of his “overbearing attitude”.

Revolutionary education is a disciplinary punishment to banish offenders to farms, factories and coal mines, where they are forced to regret their wrongdoings through hard work.

Not only does the leader oppress top officials, but he is also tightening the surveillance, control and punishment of ordinary people. Sources on North Korea said that the North Korean regime has publicly executed over 60 residents this year alone. Some suggest that the leader is strengthening his reign of terror in response to growing public complaints about the forced labor imposed on workers for the 70-day Battle campaign launched ahead of the 7th Party Congress held in last May and the 200-day Battle campaign that followed.

In North Korea, public executions usually take place in a public square near a crowded market, and merchants and visitors are forced to watch the execution. Sometimes, even school classes are brought to watch the scene. Executions are carried out after summary trials. The executioner reads out the crimes of the criminal, announces the verdict and executes the death sentence. The condemned cannot speak or complain as they are dragged to execution sites half dead with their mouth covered.

In North Korea, public executions became common during the North Korean famine of the mid-1990s, known as the Arduous March. In the 1990s, communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed and the North Korean economy plunged into deep crisis, causing factories to close and many people to starve to death.

People did not go to work and wandered around looking for food. The regime could no longer keep a tight control over people. The regime in fear of its downfall began a reign of terror to avoid the nightmare scenario. Then-leader Kim Jong-Il declared a military dictatorship under the “military first” policy and ordered to “make the sound of the guns”.

Then, why is Kim Jong-Un strengthening his own reign of terror? He became the supreme leader of the country in his 20s through the three-generational hereditary succession of power, something that is rarely seen in socialist states. He obviously lacks legitimacy when compared to Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong of China, who both rose to power after many years of experience and struggles.

The young leader calls himself the “supreme dignity”, which is nothing but to cover up his inexperience and political immaturity. Kim considers any act of disrespect, no matter how trivial it is, as a serious challenge to him. He is employing reign of terror to make up for his political weakness. He has even executed senior officials who were close to him for the slightest reasons in an abrupt, brutal and public way.

What fate will befall the extremely oppressive leader who is striving to consolidate his absolute power? It is not likely that North Korea will abandon its nuclear development. The regime adopted the “Byungjin” (parallel development) policy of economy and nuclear weapons, which practically means “nuclear first and economy next”. If the regime does not give up nuclear weapons, the international sanctions against the country will be tightened and North Korea’s economy will suffer even more. Internal hardships will lead to greater discontent among not just ordinary people but the elite, no matter how hard the regime pushes them into voluntary austerity through campaigns like the 200-day Battle.

Kim Jong-Un will then further strengthen his reign of terror to respond to growing public outrage, and this vicious circle will only continue. Reign of terror may help a regime secure stability in the short term, but it weakens the long-term durability of the regime. Forced loyalty cannot last long, and stability cannot be secured under an oppressive rule that ignores the basic needs of people. An inherently unstable society may suddenly collapse due to any situation triggered by a trivial matter or just an accident.

A country or a government that fails to keep pace with the times and the outer world is doomed to fall into ruin. Kim’s regime will eventually witness its own demise, let alone enjoying a long hold on power, unless it abandons nuclear development and adapts to the changes of time as a responsible member of the international community.

North Korean defectors who became Chinese brides end silence

North Korean defectors who became brides for rural Chinese men, they faced another excruciating choice when they suffered abuse: to flee to South Korea and leave their children. Women who’ve made that choice have lived with the guilt and shame for years, but some are breaking their silence and trying to get international help for their situation. What some of the women told The Associated Press about their experiences:

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KIM JUNGAH, 40, chose to be trafficked because she could no longer endure poverty and malnutrition in the North.

“I thought about killing myself many times but it wasn’t easy to do it. For me, escaping from North Korea was the only way to survive,” she said.

Before she was sold to a farmer in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang who paid 20,000 yuan ($2,990), Kim said potential buyers visited her and that brokers ordered her to stand up, turn around and show her profile.

“I felt so bad about that. I felt so humiliated and I realized they didn’t see me as human being,” she said.

Kim said she was pregnant when brokers sold her to the Shenyang man, who eventually adopted her daughter.

“There aren’t any mother and daughter who are separated like us. I’m demanding a simple thing. I’m demanding the parental rights that that every couple in the world has,” she said.

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KIM, 35, asked to be identified only by her surname. She allowed a stranger in China to marry her off with one of his friends, 14 years her senior, without knowing it was meant to clear the man’s debt.

“When I first saw him (my husband), he really looked like a grandpa. He was like a country man who didn’t care about his appearance at all … How can a man in his 30s look like a grandpa? I thought he was lying about his age,” she said. “I felt really bad and cried.”

She said her husband beat her about once a month and looked down on her so much.

“He always told me he brought a beggar-like person to his house … and threatened to report me to police to get me punished,” she said. “Do you know how intimidating that threat was to me?”

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PARK KYUNG-HWA, 44, offered herself to traffickers but escaped before being sold to a Chinese man.

“I had just prayed for meeting a good husband,” she said. “The women sold as brides were the people who belonged to the lowest class in the North. Our dreams were like eating rice fully and we had heard that even dogs and animals in China ate rice,” she said.

Park said she and six other women were on the back of a big truck loaded with logs for about 12 hours when brokers were moving them.

“If one log fell, we would have died all … We all cried. It was miserable … We held each other’s’ hands and sang together,” she said.

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CHAE OKHEE, 48, lived in China for about 16 years. She wasn’t a trafficking victim but has many friends and relative living in Seoul who had been sold as brides to Chinese men before their arrivals to South Korea.

“One of my friends told me her Chinese husband had put her leg in the shackles to prevent her from going out,” Chae said.

She said her 25-year-old niece from North Korea had also lived with a Chinese man with “a little bit of autism” before she fled to South Korea in 2014.

“She said she wasn’t beaten by her husband but she ran away wearing only underwear in the middle of night in collaboration with brokers,” Chae said. “She came here because she didn’t want to live with him.”

(by Yahoo news)

International Community Should Join to Improve Human Rights of Overseas North Korean Workers

Recently, I met a friend surnamed Kim from my hometown in North Korea, who defected from a construction site in Russia to South Korea in last February, in a meeting held in Seoul for improvement of human rights of North Koreans.

He was sent to Kuwait as a construction laborer in 2005 but repatriated after he failed a local physical examination, and a few years later he was sent to Russia. He said that the years spent abroad and foreign news media had made him realize that he had been deceived by the systematic propaganda of the North Korean regime.

I asked him, “I was forced to work for five months in Kuwait, 20 years ago, without a pay. How are things now? Are the workers in Kuwait or Russia being paid?” He let out a long sigh, shaking his head.

He said that in July 2014, the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where Kim Il-Sung’s body lies in rest, was renovated in an ultramodern style in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the death of the state founder. The wages of overseas North Korean workers might have been funneled into the renovation which cost tens of millions of dollars, he added.

North Korea is a member state of the United Nations, but it is quite different from others. While other countries are struggling to cope with economic downturn and investing money to improve people’s lives, North Korea is pumping vast amounts of foreign currency into matters that the dictatorial regime needs to sustain its power, such as the construction of structures aimed to idolize the leadership or propagate the regime’s ideology.

A notable example is the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang, the resting place of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, the grandfather and the father of current leader Kim Jong-Un.

In the mid to late 1990s, North Korea suffered an extreme economic crisis after the country that was severely isolated from the rest of the world was struck by a famine that killed millions of people. Despite the difficult situation, however, the North Korean regime spent $1 million on embalming Kim Il-Sung’s body and has since been spending $900,000 on the preservation every year.

A similar amount of money is spent on preserving the body of Kim Jong-Il. That is, the authoritarian regime is throwing $1.5-2 million every year at preserving the bodies of the dead, which is aimed to keep the regime’s hereditary leadership.

In addition, Kim Jong-Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, has been intent on building statues of his grandfather and father across the country. Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said, “Kim Jong-Un has set up statues of his grandfather and father in major administrative centers and places in the country since early 2016.”

He explained, “There are over 250 monuments of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il and about 35 statues of Kim Jong-Il across the country, which have been newly built since Kim Jong-Un came to power.” Kim Jong-Un continues to pour massive amounts of money and labor into the construction of monuments and statues of the previous leaders to legitimize his rule.

In fact, North Korea’s industrial technology level is way behind even 1960s South Korea. No one can spot any product, whether it be a bicycle or a car, labeled “MADE IN DPRK” in global markets. North Korea is dependent on just a few export items, such as coal, iron ore, ceramics and fishery products. For the regime, sending its surplus laborers to work in foreign countries must be a tempting way to earn money needed for its own survival.

Currently, there are over 60,000 North Koreans working in 40-50 countries and their wages that collectively amount to $200-300 million per year are sent to the North Korean regime. Overseas North Korean workers are forced to work an average of 12-14 hours a day, which I experienced myself. They suffer extremely poor living conditions, and they are forced to keep an eye on each other to make sure no one escapes. The regime in Pyongyang exploits their wages. The regime is treating the workers as nothing more than a means of foreign currency earning.

Fortunately, countries, including Poland and Malta where North Koreans are employed, have started to recognize the severity of human rights abuses experienced by North Korean workers and taken measures, such as suspending visa issuance and renewal of North Korean workers and investigating relevant illegal activities.

In addition to the forced laborers overseas, the 24 million people in North Korea have rights to be treated as human beings with dignity. They were born in the totalitarian state and are taught to be obedient to the brutal regime, so they have little awareness of resistance and would never dream of it. It would be encouraging if the 24 million North Koreans rose up against their oppressors, but they do not seem to be willing or have the power to topple the regime.

How could one expect a revolution from people who have never enjoyed most of the basic human rights?

In this regard, close attention and engagement of the international community is critical for addressing the human rights issue of North Koreans, especially of those working in foreign countries. The overseas labor issue of North Korea has gained a greater spotlight thanks to efforts of the European Union and international organizations and media.

But still, more practical and specific measures should be taken by starting with identifying how many North Koreans are working abroad and how they work and are treated in detail. The identification of their work status would enable countries to detect violations of labor law. If member countries of the International Labor Organization report any detected violations, the organization could demand the concerned employers of North Korean workers to correct the violations of labor law.

The human rights of overseas North Korean workers, who are victims of modern-day slavery, would be improved if international organizations and countries across the world engage in systematic cooperation and take concrete actions. Hopefully, this would also lead to improved human rights of the people in North Korea.

(by North Korean defector Rim il)

North Korean defector on living in the West: ‘We are so disconnected’

Yeonmi Park, 22, is in the rare position of being able to contrast Western societies with the secretive, authoritarian state of North Korea.

Park, who grew up in the North Korean city of Hyesan, told Business Insider that her childhood was dominated by hunger pangs — especially at the age of nine when her father was imprisoned for allegedly trading goods on the black market.

In 2007, at the age of 13, Park fled with her mother to China, travelling through mountains and across a frozen river. At the Chinese border, the men they bribed with money turned out to be gangsters. The men, who ran prostitution rings, trafficked them around northern China, according to The Guardian.

Eventually the mother and daughter took a chance to escape to South Korea through the Gobi desert. In South Korea, Park studied Criminal Justice at Dongguk University. She has since become a prominent defector, speaking at various international summits, including the UN Human Rights session on North Korea.

This spring, Park moved from South Korea to New York City, where she studies economics at Columbia University. We caught up with Park to find out how she is finding life in the US.

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Park explained that the contrast between the US and her home country is vast. “I feel like I’m living in a different universe and I can see both sides,” she told Business Insider.

“Americans are great people,” she said, but that there’s one thing she misses about North Korea.

“What I miss about North Korea is the human connection you get,” Park said. “We didn’t have text messages. I’m so grateful that I learned how to connect with someone without a phone, without text messages.”

In the US, this real life connection is lacking, according to the North Korean defector. “We have every tool to love someone and love ourselves, but somehow we are so disconnected,” she said.

“When I call people here, they are like: ‘Why are you calling me? Just text me.’ I say: ‘I want to hear your voice.’ I think that’s the irony I feel in this place,” she added.

Park said that she is much happier in the US than she had been in North Korea. However, she said that she has trouble understanding people’s problems in Western society, when she compares them to those of her family back home.

“This is a great world and I can’t ask for more,” Park said. “This is a beautiful world and we have everything, but somehow I see that people are confused and for me there’s no reason for us to be confused or not satisfied.”

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Studying at Columbia University is “hard, very hard.”
You might expect everything to be easy after fleeing a brutal dictator, spending two years in the control of human traffickers, and having to learn an entirely new culture, language, and world-view. But Park has admitted that she is finding the range of compulsory classes at Columbia a real struggle.

AP Images”It’s hard, it’s very hard,” she said. “I’m taking Calculus class and I’ve never seen a supply and demand graph until this moment. Education is hard, learning is painful sometimes.”

“At Columbia, everybody already studied math at high school and middle school, but I never did math,” she explained.

In North Korea, Park left school and starting working at the local farm at just nine years old.

But the challenge of education is worth it. Park said that books have helped to change her life.

She credits George Orwell’s “1984” with illustrating how the North Korean state controlled her own psychology.

“For most people, North Korea is about Kim Jong Un’s haircut”
Initially, Park said that when she gained freedom and independence, she found it “a struggle” to know what to do with herself. She said it felt strange to be “the master of [her] own life.”

Now that Park has found her voice, though, she feels it is her duty to use it.

“It was very hard for me to get this voice and freedom,” Park said. “Every day I feel so powerful, so empowered.”

Park wants to use her platform to explain the gravity of the situation in North Korea.

“For most people, North Korea is about Kim Jong Un’s haircut and nothing more than that,” Park said.

“It is crucial for the rest of the world to know what is happening to the country and know what is happening to average people,” she said, “and what they have to do to be free.”

(by Business Insider)

Upcoming Supreme People’s Assembly should see measures to improve people’s lives

North Koreans, who are forced to become part of political bodies controlled by the regime for their entire lives, are naturally accustomed to clapping when they gather to worship the supreme leader. They are brainwashed from early childhood to revere the leader, but such applause is rather sincere and enthusiastic.

They think of the leader as their savior and are eager to express their admiration and gratitude for him.

In North Korea, public education and political events that are aimed at idolizing the leader are much more important than other efforts for economic development such as job creation.

North Koreans stayed calm even when they heard that the leader executed his uncle on charges of applauding the leader halfheartedly or behaving irreverently. The 20 million people in the reclusive country are fiercely competing to survive while keeping an eye on one another.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un received ‘thunderous applause’ from his loyal followers during the 7th congress of the ruling Workers’ Party held about a month ago in Pyongyang, the first such event in 36 years. He intends to enjoy another feast of clapping in the 4th session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) to convene on June 29.

His grandfather Kim Il-Sung, the first leader of the country, declared, during the 1st session of the 3rd SPA held in 1962, that “In 1964, all people will be well-off, living in tile-roofed houses, eating beef soups and white rice, and wearing silk clothes.”

In those days, most people made do with cheep multigrain rice or porridge, so his remark gave people a glimmer of hope.

But, his vision was cut short by his son Kim Jong-Il. If the second leader had not built thousands of statues dedicated to his father and numerous other political facilities nationwide for decades, the ‘great vision’ of his father would have been realized at least in part.

His son and the third leader Kim Jong-Un is not much different. During his first verbal speech in April 2012, he avowed that he will address the hunger of the people, saying “I will not let our people tighten their belts”. Now, five years on, the people’s lives have not much improved.

The current leader is more obsessed with nuclear tests than his father and grandfather was under his ruling policy of ‘parallel development of economy and nuclear weapons’. He has poured enormous amounts of money into nuclear tests, which could have been used to feed the starving people for years.

Even in this situation, the North Korean regime plans to hold the 4th SPA session to lay administrative foundations through organizational reshuffle after the recent party congress.

During the party congress, Kim Jong-Un elevated his party title from the first secretary to the chairman. Some expect that in the upcoming meeting, his government post as the chairman of the National Defense Commission would be replaced as well. Besides, the participants would apparently discuss follow-up measures to the Five-Year Plan for economic development, which was suggested by the leader during the party congress.

In the planned meeting, Kim Jong-Un would try to mollify the people by adopting detailed actions for the Five-Year Plan, but the effect would only be temporary. The economic development strategy would end up in vain unless the regime admits the fallacy of the nuclear-economy parallel policy, with which it deceives the people into believing that their lives can be improved while all the money is dumped into nuclear development, and ultimately abandons its nuclear development.

It is also uncertain how long North Korea will be able to endure international sanctions and other pressure that have been enhanced after its 4th nuclear test.

Even in the face of the heightened sanctions, if Kim Jong-Un still cares only about changing his title to enjoy a long term in office, instead of bringing specific and feasible measures to improve the people’s lives, he will face more and more discontent from the people, which will threaten the existence of his regime.

In the upcoming SPA session, Kim Jong-Un must come up with detailed and practical economic development measures to make people’s lives better, instead of trying to make the event as part of the ‘grand finale of his coronation’ through only perfunctory organizational reshuffle.

(by RIM IL, writer and North Korean defector)

Russia Grants North Korean Refugee Asylum After Fourth Request

Russia has agreed to give temporary asylum to a refugee from North Korea after he submitted his request for a fourth time, Russian NGO the Civic Assistance Committee reported Thursday.

The refugee, who has only been identified as “Kim,” was only given permission to remain in the country for a year on May 26 following a deluge of media coverage.

ФМС Федеральная миграционная служба флаг милиция

ФМС Федеральная миграционная служба флаг милиция

Kim’s story is an dramatic one. He first tried to escape from North Korea as a teenager in 1997, the Civic Assistance Committee said. He worked illegally in China for more than decade, but decided to try his luck and travel to Russia following police intimidation. Unfortunately, the maps Kim used to make his journey were outdated and he ended up in Kazakhstan. He was deported back to North Korea and sentenced to 10 years hard labor.

Amazingly, Kim managed to escape the labour camp, and once again made a daring journey to China. From there, he headed for Russia, where requested asylum on arrival in late 2014.

Russian immigration officials turned his asylum request down on three separate occasions, arguing that the risk to Kim’s life was “not sufficiently proven.”

A bilateral extradition agreement signed by Russia and North Korea in February this year has caused a number of legal difficulties in the case.

Lawyers argued that the refusal violated Russia’s duty as a signatory to the Geneva Convention on Refugees. The convention states that “any North Korean refugee has the right to asylum given that, having voluntarily left the country, a refugee is automatically considered a criminal,” the Civic Assistance Committee said.

(by Moscow Times)

The Seventh Congress of the Workers Party held with People’s Blood and Sweat

I witnessed the sixth congress of the Workers Party in Pyongyang, 36 years ago, in October 1980. At that time, food rations were normally distributed to people. I remember that each adult was provided with 700g of daily food and a family of four was supplied, every month, with a bottle of edible oil, 2kg of soybean paste, 5 pieces of tofu, 3 heads of cabbage and other food items.

The highlight of the congress was the appearance of 38-year-old ‘dear leader’ Kim Jong-il on TV. It was his first TV appearance ever, although the noble and glorious name of Kim Jong-il had been heard in classes, speeches and political events organized by the party.

The 20 million population, who had been kept under the party’s tight control, placed high hopes on Kim Jong-il. They expected that the young leader would work more than his father and supreme leader Kim Il-sung and make the economy and people’s lives much better.

‘Dear leader’ Kim Jong-il, however, was not so dear to people. After taking power, he concentrated on matters not related to the improvement of people’s lives, such as the construction of a Kim Il-sung statue, a museum aimed at idolizing the leadership, a grand monument depicting North Korea’s revolutionary struggle, and historic sites. He just visited movie studios and art troupes to guide music and dance performances, all in the name of the inspection of people’s lives.

It was natural that the livelihoods of people kept getting worse. After the sixth congress, the amount of food rationing for people in Pyongyang started to decrease and stores began to sell products only in exchange for coupons. Kim Il-sung said before his death, “Hold the next party congress when we can feed people rice and meat soup”, as if he predicted such a situation.

The seventh congress of the Workers Party was held by Kim Jong-un, a grandson of Kim Il-sung, in May 2016. How are the people in Pyongyang, now? – the ordinary people who take a majority of the population, excluding Kim Jong-un and his close allies, party officials, and a few elites.

I heard from North Koreans, who recently escaped North Korea, that, these days, each adult is provided with 450g of daily food, which is often suspended if there is no food. Each resident is supplied with food for 10 days every month on average, and most of the food are mixed grains that are not fully ripen or damaged in storage, which taste like animal feed. Other food items are rarely distributed even on national holidays.

Despite the grim situation, Kim Jong-un, in his early 30s, held the seventh party congress, abandoning his grandfather’s wish. He invited some 120 reporters from 10 countries, but he did not allow them to cover the congress and avoided specific comment on issues related to the lives of North Korean people.

While calling himself ‘the father of the people’, Kim Jong-un has ordered the construction of dozens of statues of his father and grandfather across the country for the past five years, and there are countless structures built to idolize the leadership. His mind is only on the military and he has visited military camps, not places where people live and work, over 20 times every year. Apparently, he does not have any basic qualification as a leader that is supposed to look after the people.

Kim Jong-un has launched military provocations and ‘verbal bombs’ on South Korea in order to distract the attention of North Koreans devastated by continued starvation and poverty. He took a step further and is intent on nuclear development and missile launches that threaten the fate of all on the Korean peninsula.

He does not let the people rest for a second in fear that they would be awakened and recognize who he really is. He pushed the population into the ’70-day campaign’ aimed at boosting economic production, from late February to early May, in the run-up to the seventh party congress this year. Workers were forced to work extra hours without a day’s break.

Human rights and freedom are far-fetched notions for North Koreans who have been under control, physically and mentally, of the authorities. If workers do not attend the party’s political education session at their workplace such as factories with rusty machines, they are criticized in a public assembly for being ‘counter-revolutionary’. People are not allowed to move outside of their neighborhood, let alone go overseas. If someone takes a photo of Kim Jong-un, he or she is put in jail.

To provide the 20 million North Korean people, who live a life of misery and horror, with basic rights as humans, there is one thing that should be addressed first of all. It is to oust, by any means, Kim Jong-un, the third generation of the tyrannical Kim dynasty inherited from Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

– RIM IL, a defector from North Korea

‘It was a dark, depressing moment’ : North Korean defector Yeonmi Park on freedom

YEONMI Park thought freedom from North Korea meant being able to dye your hair, wear jeans and watch movies.

“I thought, that’s great, I’d risk my life for that,” she laughingly told a Sydney audience this week. “I literally risked my life to wear jeans.”

But freedom turned out to be a more complicated prospect. It meant hiking over mountains aged 13, in constant fear of being caught and shot. It meant watching her mother being raped in her place by a Chinese people trafficker. And it meant becoming a “mistress” to a man whose daughter was just a year younger than her.

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Worst of all, after she walked across the Gobi desert in -3C temperatures to reach Mongolia and then South Korea, it meant learning to function in a new world.

“I was scared of going into a coffee shop,” she said, to a packed room at Sydney Writers’ Festival. “I didn’t know how to order a coffee. Small, medium, large … I didn’t even know what toilet paper was. It’s funny now but if you can’t even figure out the bathroom, how are you going to figure out society?”

When asked to introduce herself, she froze. “I didn’t know what that was. They said, if you don’t know what to say, give your name, where you’re from and your favourite colour.”
Her favourite colour? She was stumped. In North Korea, there was no concept of individuality. “Why is it important what I think?” she wondered. Just tell me what to do!”

Yeonmi realised early on that, for her, being free was going to be just as hard as life under a repressive regime. “It was a dark, depressing moment.”

Even today, the 22-year-old poster girl for North Korean defectors feels left behind. Despite having caught up with South Korean classmates who were years ahead, written a best-selling book about her life, learnt English and moved to the US to study finance and economics at Colombia University, she believes she has a long way to go.

GROWING UP IN NORTH KOREA

“We didn’t know much about the world,” Yeonmi said. “I didn’t know about Australia or Africa. I never heard about the famine. If anything bad happened in the country, it was because of American bastards. Everything you learn is propaganda.”
When people around her died of malnutrition, and bodies piled up in the street, she blamed the US. Three million people in a population of 22 million died in the famine between 1994 and 1998.

“My grandmother killed herself before the famine got her,” said Yeonmi. “My uncle also died.”
Her father was arrested and jailed for 10 years for black market trading. “If he was in this country, he would be a normal businessman, but he was a criminal. In North Korea, there’s no court. They say there’s a court, but there’s no one to defend you.”
She watched a man executed for eating beef, because cows are used for work. “Human life, that’s all it’s worth,” she said.

When her father grew sick, her family feared he would die in jail, so they bribed the guards and managed to get him out after just four years. She and her mother decided to follow Yeonmi’s 16-year-old sister to China, not knowing she had been sold into the sex trade.

“If I stayed, I knew I was going to die of starvation,” said Yeonmi. “I was surprised when I came to the West that spring is described as a season of hope. In North Korea, it’s a season of death. Nothing grows.”

She was just 13 years old.

OVER THE MOUNTAINS

When Yeonmi left North Korea, she was “barely walking” after doctors had cut open her stomach without anaesthetic, thinking she had appendicitis. In fact, she just had an infection.
She and her mother climbed mountains to reach China, knowing that if they were caught trying to escape, they would be shot.

But after they arrived, Yeonmi realised: “We’d come to a bad place, maybe even worse than the one we’d left.”

The Chinese did not accept North Koreans as political refugees and the defectors were in constant danger of being caught and sent back — to torture, death and, for those pregnant by a Chinese man, the slaughter of their baby.

“People would say, I can kill you and I’m not going to get punished, so you have to do what I say,” said Yeonmi.

The people traffickers ordered her to have sex with them. She didn’t know what sex was. Her mother asked them to take her instead, and Yeonmi watched as she was raped.
A major gender imbalance in rural China means men are desperate to find wives. Yeonmi’s mother was sold to a farmer for $65 and the 13-year-old to another man for more than $200. “That was the moment I stopped being a child.”

Yeonmi threatened to kill herself, but the trafficker made her a deal. If she became his mistress, he would get her father out of North Korea and find her mother. She agreed.

ACROSS THE DESERT

Yeonmi says she never hated her captor. She fantasised about killing him, “but he was the person who cared about me when the world abandoned me.”

Her happy reunion with her parents didn’t last long, however, because her father died from cancer soon afterwards. “I buried him in the mountains, like a dog,” she said. “There was no dignity. I didn’t know what human rights were but I knew I didn’t deserve that, I knew I had to live differently.”

She and her mother decided to make the journey to Mongolia, and their only option was to cross the Gobi desert. They went in winter, when the temperatures were below freezing and no one would expect them to attempt it.

“We had a guide to the border and then we were given a compass and told to follow north and west and when we reached eight wire fences, that was Mongolia,” she said.

The 15-year-old, her mother and four other North Korean defectors walked for days.

The night before they reach the border “was the longest night of my life,” she said. “It feels like you’re on Earth by yourself and the whole world is against you and you have to fight on your own. I wanted to give up.”

When a Mongolian soldier held them up at gunpoint, she thanked him.

The guards tried to send the group back, but they had brought poison and knives. One woman swallowed her poison, and was taken to hospital. “That’s what you have to do,” said Yeonmi.

INTO THE WEST

Yeonmi was given a health check and fake passport, and boarded a plane for the first time in her life to fly to South Korea. She expected to be accepted as one of their own, but was downcast to find that North Koreans were viewed as foreigners.

“I had a really hard time in South Korea. That’s one of the reasons I moved to the States, and I’m not planning to go back. People are not interested in North Koreans. If you’re going to be discriminated against by people, you would prefer it’s others, not your own people.”

Yeonmi has made it her life’s work to campaign for support for North Koreans, those in their home country, those hiding in China and those fighting to build a new life elsewhere.
)“People think my struggles ended when my hardship ended.” she said. “I have to not just understand North Korea but understand this world. How do I connect to this universe?

“I didn’t know people cared. I didn’t have any faith in humanity. They sold me. How can I trust men again?

“There’s a fundamental wrongness in North Korea. Kim Jong-un was killing his own uncle. This man can do anything. I can’t imagine what sort of person he is.

“In North Korea, there’s no word for liberty, love, human rights or individuality. I never heard my mum and dad say they loved each other. The only love was for the regime.”

(by News.com.au)