Monthly Archives: April 2012

North Korean Night Protest

Since I’m waiting for my translator to finish the transcription of the most recent North Korean defector interview – which turned out to be an amazing story – here are some images from one of the night protests outside the Chinese embassy in Seoul. Despite the cold rain, activists were outside advocating North Korean rights, something they say they will do every day and night for 1000 days.

 

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North Korean Defections: Kang Won Cheol

While working on my project about the lives of North Korean defectors I was asked to document Justice for North Korea’s six-week conference on human rights. The event is divided into six two-hour lectures featuring documentary films, guest speakers and human rights activists, and aims to give a close up and personal look at the challenges facing North Koreans.

Kang Won Cheol, a North Korean defector who now lives in Seoul.

On the first night I was able to spend some time speaking to and photographing this man, Kang Won Cheol, a defector who successfully reached South Korea in 2005.

On his first attempt to flee North Korea he was only 14 years old (13 in the Western system of birthdays). Though he was able to escape to China, he found himself lost and confused until he was picked up by Chinese border police and forcefully repatriated. The flight back to Pyongyang was the first time he had ever been on an airplane, an experience that he says would have been “a dream come true for any North Korean” had the circumstances been different.

Once in custody of the North Korean secret police he was, along with a dozen or so others, interrogated for weeks while they tried to get him to admit to being a defector. While under the scrutiny of the interrogators he witnessed the torture – and in some cases the executions – of the others in the group, uncertain of his future. During this time he remembered thinking that if he was able to survive he would never again try to escape.

He managed to resist however, and the police were unable to conclusively prove that he was planning on defecting, instead believing his story that he had just been searching for food. Foraging attempts are becoming increasingly common as the food situation in North Korea becomes  desperate, says Kang.

Despite his promise to himself that he would not put himself in such a dangerous situation again, Won Cheol decided to attempt escape again soon after he was released. In 2005, still a teenager, he snuck into China for a second time. To be caught was almost certain death, or a lifetime in a labor camp at the very least.

With the help of a South Korean missionary he was eventually able to cross into Mongolia where he was flown to Seoul and given South Korean citizenship. I can’t possibly imagine any high school students I know being capable of such a feat.

I will be speaking to Won Cheol again in more detail as this project continues, but if the conference continues to put me in touch with more people like this, the next six weeks should be an amazing and enlightening experience.

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North Korean Repatriation Night Protests

I’ve been completely swamped recently trying to meet a writing deadline, so I apologize for the lack of posts recently.

Since taking part in the North Korean Repatriation protests outside the Chinese embassy a few weeks ago, I’ve started to build up a contact base among some North Korean defectors. With the help of my friend Moon Yeong acting as translator, I’ve been able to start interviewing some of these people and we’ve heard some amazing stories. The process has been slow as many defectors are nervous about having their photo taken (many have families remaining in North Korea and they will face harsh punishments if it is discovered they are related to a defector), but it promises to be a great project.

Here are a couple of nice images of the evening protests, held every night. The full stories will be coming as soon as I can get caught up with my assignments.

Choi Joo Wual, president of the North Korean Defectors Association, has helped over 10,000 defectors settle in new countries.

A teenager holds a candle as he prays for the Chinese government to change their repatriation policies

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