I am pleased to attach the North Korea Freedom Week 2012 Acknowledgementsrecognizing the many people who made the 9th annual North Korea Freedom Week, which concluded earlier this month in Seoul, such a tremendous success. You will find the names of the different Event Chair and Coordinators as well as samplings of photos and links to the many press articles and television interviews from the week's events. Even though there was a major press strike during NKFW, the events that week received terrific news coverage including front page stories in South Korea's largest paper and other dailies.
I also want to share with you some of my personal reflections especially for so many of you who wanted to be there physically, but were not able to be, but were there in spirit! I thought you would enjoy the following observations:
North Korea Freedom Week Personal Reflections
1) We have turned a corner in North Korea human rights advocacy. We are no longer debating its importance as we have for so many years. It is on the agenda now! Those new to the North Korea human rights movement will find it incredulous that for so long so little attention was paid to the political prison camps, the trafficking of North Korea women, the dire conditions inside North Korea. It is because of all of you receiving this email who got involved, raised your voice, used your own personal talents whether in organizing events, writing opinion pieces or letters, demonstrating at rallies, or on your knees in prayer, that the momentum is now on our side for the first time in the history of this struggle.
With the substantial evidence that has emerged combined with the eyewitness testimonies of nearly 25,000 North Koreans this issue is no longer in dispute, and we have seen governments finally making human rights as equal a concern as the security issues. We also see that the population that should have been the most concerned, the people of South Korea, are indeed finding their voice (more on that below). There is much more that must be done but we saw substantial reaction from the people of South Korea in joining the many events of NKFW. We have to continue to expand upon these developments.
2) The bravery and commitment of the North Korean people continues to be truly inspiring; throughout the week, I was in awe of what they have accomplished and of the testimony of the most recent arrivals from the North.
Just a few examples:
Kim Seong Min: Despite repeated attempts on his life by the North Korean regime and the regime's relentless efforts to shut down Free North Korea Radio, Kim Seong Min once again played a major role in the success of North Korea Freedom Week. In addition to personally organizing many events that week, he worked tirelessly with the major North Korean and South Korean organizations that are part of the human rights movement to host events during that week. As you will see from the attached report, there were many, many individuals and NGOs involved and several new events that had never been attempted before. Two examples were an educational event for South Korean soldiers at an army base and the establishment of an alliance of the independent radio broadcasters. In the first example, survivors of the political prison camps, Kim Tae Jin and Kim Young Soon, provided eyewitness testimony to the soldiers and an open forum for questions. This program has become so popular that it is now being repeated at other military bases in South Korea so that those serving in the military will understand the reality of the human rights situation in North Korea. Another event was the establishment of an alliance by all the independent radio broadcasters: Open North Korea Radio, Radio Free Chosun, North Korea Reform Radio and Free North Korea Radio. The importance of getting information getting into North Korea and out has never been greater. I am pleased to share that during the month of April, Free North Korea Radio doubled its broadcast to four hours a day.
Mrs. "Lee" on Kangwha Island During Choco Pie Balloon Launch: During a balloon launch of Choco pies from Kangwha Island that was organized by Free the NK Gulag, members of the US Delegation including Paul and Joy Kim, Nancy Purcell and I were getting ready to release the balloons. A television reporter approached us and a North Korean woman (alias "Mrs Lee"), who was helping to hold the balloon, suddenly drew back and covered her face. We asked her what was wrong, and she told us that she was the only member of her family to have escaped to South Korea, so her face and her name could never be shown in the media. We were struck by her bravery in joining Free the NK Gulag's balloon launch and do what she could to help her family back in North Korea.
On a personal note: the last time I attempted to do a balloon launch on Kangwha Island was some years ago with Fighters for Free North Korea. We were stopped by both the South Korean military and police and kicked off the island. This year the military and police were there again -- this time, to ensure we got the job done!
Amazing Escape Stories: Crossing the Gobi with only a Compass, Crossing the Mountains with an Entire Family: I heard quite a few escape stories during NKFW 2012. In one case, a young woman worked in China as a waitress for four years to save up enough money to hire a broker to get her to South Korea. He took her to northern China, handed her a compass, told her the direction points to walk, and sent her off alone to cross the Gobi desert by foot to get to Mongolia and eventual freedom in South Korea. Can you imagine? She made it to Mongolia and then to South Korea. She taught herself how to be a sound engineer and is now working full time.
Another woman described how her parents, her husband, her children and her sister's children all took the mountain route to China rather than crossing a lower river point to avoid border guards. It was so treacherous and difficult her children told her: "We could never do this again." They made it to China but for two years and eight months they went from city to city to avoid North Korean agents and Chinese police finding any kind of work to support themselves, until they all eventually made it to South Korea.
Ahn Hyok and 48M: Regarding escaping from North Korea, Ahn Hyok, a North Korean who survived Yoduk, has spent the last two years of his life and all his personal resources to produce a powerful film entitled 48M which is based on the eyewitness accounts of over 200 North Koreans who fled to South Korea via China. It is titled after the 48 meters for the short distance they had to travel to escape from North Korea. Working with Ahn, we are planning a special premier of this movie this summer.
3) Escaping for Freedom; Titanic Remains Popular; USBs Are Best! The most recent North Koreans now living in South Korea told me this: In the past, 80% of those fleeing North Korea were doing it because they were suffering (hunger etc), but now 80% are fleeing because they want to have freedom. As one woman described it: "Women in North Korea have no social status, nothing, no life. As a woman, I wanted to make something of my life, do something important." She said the North Korean regime's own propaganda condemns them as they announce strict penalties for those who try to escape. This made her wonder: "There must be a reason they want to leave North Korea!" She came to know of the outside world through South Korean soaps and Western films and fled for one reason: "I want to live in freedom." Her favorite South Korean Soap Opera: IN-OUT, about a gambler. Her favorite Western film: Titantic.
And by the way, the North Koreans said we should send everything on USBs from now on (forget DVDs, CDs, etc), because "we can hide them easier and get them out of the media players faster when State Security drops by."
4) "The regime will collapse within one to three years. You can feel it in the air." This is a direct quote from a defector who I first hosted in the USA fifteen years ago. He is one of the elites who daily studies and analyzes everything happening in the regime. We have heard predictions about regime collapse for decades but the defectors themselves have always been very reluctant to speculate on this possibility having witnessed first hand the tight grip the Kim regimes have on power. The last time there was a transfer of power in North Korea, many thought there would be a regime collapse, but it did not happen. Few have been reluctant to ever speculate on that possibility. Not so today! All the defectors feel this way. The dramatic changes inside North Korea occurring over the past decade especially the information explosion that has hit there and the market explosion with people no longer dependent on the regime to survive, makes North Korea vastly different today than the last transition in 1994 when Kim Jong Il assumed power.
Because of this, in addition to continued advocacy and outreach, we especially need to target the elites whose sole motivation in life for now is the success of Kim Jong Un. During the week we advocated strongly for tighter sanctions to cut off the flow of rewards the regime is able to provide the elites to keep them loyal, and a two pronged message to the elites: they have a clear choice they can make for the future: a place at the table in a free and unified Korea or prosecution for their crimes against the Korean people.
5) South Korea Has Finally Found Its Voice; Refugee Crisis Gains Continued Focus: The crisis facing the North Korean refugees in China has awakened South Korean civic society, and we have seen the Lee administration speak out strongly on this issue for the first time. While President Lee Myung Bak's appeal has only saved some refugees in China, we know that China is rethinking their policy. We also know that most Chinese citizens, who are aware of the situation, are sympathetic to the plight of the North Korean refugees. South Korean culture is very popular in China, and we saw recently the outright anger Chinese citizens are expressing against North Korea for their terrible treatment of the Chinese fishermen. This focus on the refugee crisis is a combination of the effects of the solid information provided by Donga Ilboreporter Sung Ha Joo of what was happening on-the-ground in China starting from the beginning of this year and continuing; the great efforts of Assemblywoman Park Sun Young in leading the Save My Friend Campaign; the participation of famous South Korean actors and musicians especially Cha In Pyo and the popular German musical group Bony M.; and of course the South and North Korean activists. During NKFW we were able to take part in the demonstration at the Chinese embassy and while there have been setbacks on the campaign to save North Korean refugees in China, Assemblywoman Park, Pastor Peter Jung, North Korean NGO leaders like Dr. Lee Ae Ran have vowed constant vigilance, and they will soon be joined by an international coalition that is larger and more organized than anything we have seen yet!!
6) Dispelling the Two Fears Regarding Reunification: There are two main fears that we hear often from South Koreans regarding what will happen when the regime collapses in North Korea: the cost to South Korea and the fear of starving refugees flooding the South. During NKFW 2012 we were able to strongly dispel these wrong headed notions in both speeches and interviews. Indeed the benefits from a unified Korea will far outweigh the costs. Korean will truly be a peninsula and South Korea will no longer be an Island! Furthermore, there will not be a refugee outflow, the problem will be dealing with the inflow of people trying to get to North Korea when it finally opens up.
If you are interested in any additional information regarding NKFW and comments above, please let me know.
We have confirmed the 10th North Korea Freedom Week for Seoul the last week of April 2013. But as the Jewish people say at Passover with Great Hope, Next Year in Jerusalem. We say with Great Hope, Next Year in Pyongyang!
In the meantime, there is much coming up this summer. So, I will be back in touch again soon.
Many Thanks and Acta Non Verba,