May 30, 2012
I am pleased to present the North Korea Freedom Week 2012 Acknowledgements recognizing the many people who made the 9th annual North Korea Freedom Week, which concluded earlier this month in Seoul, such a tremendous success. (Click here to read the Acknowledgements) 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.