Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

North Korean Defectors Discuss Lives

More than 75 members of the Georgetown community listened to harrowing testimony from three North Korean defectors at a panel hosted by the Truth and Human Rights in North Korea club Wednesday evening in the Healey Family Student Center.

Praise Ju, Hyeonah Ji and Johan Kim, speaking mostly through a Korean interpreter, talked about their former lives in North Korea as well as their escapes and advocacy work after defecting.

“We want to highlight the forced repatriation policy of the Chinese government and also to stop the genocide that is occurring in North Korea,” Kim said. “To talk about those two main issues, that is why we’re here visiting the U.S.”

Ju, born in 1991, said she was a part of the new generation of North Koreans named the “Market Generation” because of its heavy usage of illegal black markets.

One day in 1998, Ju’s father brought home an illegal radio, giving Ju and her family access to outside information for the first time. Before long the Ju family began to see falsehood in the nationalistic rhetoric from the government, according to Ju.

Ju’s father was the first from her family to escape, followed by her mother in 2008. Ju stayed for another three years, all the while illegally watching South Korean and American TV shows and movies such as James Bond under the blankets or behind closed curtains.

“It was dangerous, but we couldn’t stop,” Ju said of her illegal TV watching.

Ji, a writer and reporter living in South Korea, escaped North Korea four times and was repatriated by the Chinese three times. During her repatriation she said she suffered numerous offenses at the hands of the North Korean government, such as a forced abortion and a year in a prison camp for escaping the country.

Plans of escape began forming after Ji’s father travelled to China to meet a relative and heard a South Korean broadcast, which opened his eyes to numerous discrepancies in North Korean rhetoric. Ji, however, expressed hesitation because she thought escape might soil plans she had to become a writer. Eventually, want of freedom convinced Ji to attempt escape.

“I had this longing to experience and to live life in freedom and enjoy human rights in a free and democratic country,” Ji said. “So that’s what motivated me to escape North Korea.”

Ji’s father escaped in 1998, but has not been heard from since. Until 2007, Ji said she went through tremendous suffering in attempts to escape, including being sold into a human trafficking ring along with her family.

Another hardship was Ji’s imprisonment. Ji said that there were 2,000 prisoners in Prison Facility 11 when she arrived, but only 200 survived.

“The only reason why I came out alive from that prison experience was that no matter what it took, I vowed that I would come out and tell the world about what I saw, what I experienced,” Ji said.

Ji’s full story is told in her book, “A Thousand Miles For Freedom,” which is currently only available in Korean.

Kim, a former North Korean singer, said he was forced to go in the fields six times a day, despite no pay and near-death starvation, to sing songs praising Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung.

“Because there was nothing to eat, we ended up eating grass or peeling or taking or scraping whatever we could find and get our hands on to salvage those material, those goods at the lowest cost possible,” Kim said.

Eventually Kim was arrested while salvaging metal from a power station.

“After I was arrested the first words said to me by the North Korean agent were, ‘It’s all over for you. You’re good as dead now,’” Kim said.

Kim was then taken to a North Korean prison and was placed in a barren cell. Kim, finding a small, loose piece of metal, said he used the piece of scrap for 14 hours to scrape his way out of his prison cell and escaped to China.

In China, Kim found refuge in a church where he said he began to see the falsity of North Korea’s teachings.

“When I realized all the lies that had been told to me, I realized that [North Korea] was a complete lie, and I felt such betrayal,” Kim said.

Kim now works as a producer for the Far East Broadcasting Company in South Korea, where he helps underground Christians in North Korea by airing Christian broadcasts across the border.

After a brief question-and-answer period, in which the question of China’s implication in the refugee situation was discussed, Kim closed out the panel with a performance of a song illustrating the division in the Korean Peninsula.

Shaquille James (COL ’16), co-president of THiNK, said that the event was well-received by the audience.

“I think it went over very, very well,” James said. “Usually when we’re planning these things you really have no idea what the defectors are going to say, and after [Wednesday], I realized I have no idea what they’re actually going to do either.”

Lynn Lee (SFS ’18), a member of THiNK’s political committee, said she thought the event was eye-opening for many who may not know the extent of events in Korea.

“I think this kind of event is really, really important because I see a lot of people outside the Korean peninsula, they don’t know what’s going on in North Korea,” Kim said. “They are willing to be involved, but they don’t know how to be involved and what’s going on.”

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