NKFW 2021 - Open Minds hosted by The Heritage Foundation
Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at 5:00 PM
Hello and welcome to the Heritage Foundation's North Korea Freedom Week Panel, Opening Minds in North Korea. I'm Olivia Enos, Senior Policy Analyst in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, and I'm co-hosting this panel today with my esteemed colleague, Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia, Bruce Klingner. We're truly delighted to participate in North Korea Freedom Week once again and are eternally grateful to both Suzanne and Jason for coordinating an impactful week of events.
When Suzanne first approached us about hosting a panel, Bruce and I were delighted to participate and especially intrigued by the concept of “Opening Minds” in North Korea. Promoting openness in North Korea has been an important subject to both of us because we understand the intrinsic power of having information.
Ever since I first became interested in the plight of the North Korean people, all the way back in college, I remember hearing stories of North Korean refugees who defected because they heard about the outside world through the radio, or because they gained access to a Bible and found their Christian faith, or because they watched a South Korean drama or an American movie that then prompted them to flee and to leave the country. These stories are really inspiring and in many cases seemingly impossible in a regime that is so closed off to the rest of the world. That North Koreans gain access to information at all is a testament to their ingenuity and persistence, it's a testament to their development of the market economy, and it speaks to their desire to seek out and find out more about the outside world, the world that exists beyond the 38th parallel.
It's also a testament to the dedication of South Korean NGOs, missionaries, and persistent information access warriors around the globe who do what they can to bring information to the people of North Korea. These days, it requires actual bravery to promote information access in North Korea, because the South Korean government has done so much to curtail that access and to limit freedom of speech and expression of its own South Korean citizens, particularly through its anti-leaflet law.
That law has a restrictive scope that is far more expansive than merely restricting the distribution of leaflets. It limits what can be sent into North Korea by broadly defining leaflets as advertisements, so-called propaganda, auxiliary memory devices like USBs, and even money. In addition, it prohibits the posting of visual aids such as posters along the border area and makes it illegal to broadcast loudspeaker messages along the demarcation line. The punishment, in fact, for violating this law is up to three years in prison, and approximately 30,000 US dollars in fines. Actually, the second panelists who were supposed to join my colleague, Bruce Klingner's panel, Park Sang-hak and Park Jung-ho, have disappeared right before the panel and we're not actually sure why, but they were slated to host balloon launches along the border just this week.
We expect these types of restrictions to come from the Kim regime, but we don't nor should we have to expect them from a democratically elected administration in South Korea. Our hope through these panels today is to first let North Koreans in their own words explain how vital access to information is for them. For many, it is an actual lifeline. And in the second panel, Bruce will lead a discussion on how we can do more to open minds in North Korea and promote vital access to information.
Before I introduce the speakers, I wanted to cover a few brief housekeeping items, including that we'll be taking Q&A and you can submit that through a particular link that's already been distributed to attendees and also a reminder that panelists can listen in either Korean or English, so please be sure to choose the option that works best for you.
Without further ado, I would like to introduce our fabulous speakers for our first panel, which will focus on what opened their minds in North Korea. Our first speaker is going to be Choi Jeong-ho. Prior to his defection, he worked at a foreign currency earning company in Hyesan in Ryanggang Province as vice director and he served as a warehouse manager at Kim Il Sung Military University. He defected to South Korea in 2016. Our second speaker will be Choi Guem-nam who served in the North Korean military with the 108th division as a tank driver from 1985 to 1999. After serving in the military, he worked as an airplane manufacturer, and he defected with his family to South Korea back in 2013. Today, he actually runs his own business inside of South Korea. Finally, we have our third speaker, Kim Ji-young. Kim was born in Hyesan as well. She studied at Kim Il Sung University and later founded a successful restaurant inside of North Korea. When her family fell out of favor with the regime, they made the decision to defect, also in 2013. During her time in North Korea, she was not aware of the hardships all around the country, but she was determined to help after she learned more once she had defected. And that's why she works for Free North Korea Radio today.
So without further ado, I'm going to hand it over to our first speaker to give brief remarks. So I'll now invite Choi Jeong-ho to give us his first comments.
Hello, everybody. I defected and I entered South Korea on November 23, 2016. My name is Choi Jeong-ho. This is the motivation, the reason I ended up coming to South Korea when I lived in North Korea. My family members actually left North Korea and I was living there alone and I was very lonely. I had this friend, one of my friends, he said, “I know that you're lonely. Let's have a drink. Let's go somewhere.” So I followed my friend. We were sharing a drink and a South Korean TV drama was on. It kind of soothed my mind, I felt comfortable. So I ended up watching and I think it was a miniseries about 40 or 50 episodes. However, I belonged to the Communist Party when I was in North Korea. I, myself, actually tried not to watch South Korean drama that much. I had made up my mind and upheld my promise to protect my country. But then my friend turned on the TV. He wanted to console my lonely mind. After I saw this drama, I realized that South Korea is not the actual South Korea that I heard from North Korea. They said South Korea is corrupt and the people don't have houses. But then from that South Korean drama - “Stairway to Heaven", that was the title of the drama - the apartment that was shown in the drama, it was dramatically different from what I heard or what I actually knew. I asked my friend,
“Is this the real South Korea? Is this for real? Maybe they want to brainwash us. Maybe they’re making this lie and this is far from reality.”
My friend is like,
“You just need to watch a little bit, and then you will know” and he thought it can show that it's actual reality and what's going on in South Korea and that they're actually living very, very well.
So I was still confused, and at the same time I was not confused...
Later I went to the marketplace, and I purchased the CD which has the drama recorded on it. There were so many different movies. I rewatched "Stairway to Heaven", action movies, and other things. Just wow. Then I realized that South Korea is really different from what I had thought so far. I was so surprised, I was in shock! I realized that all I knew was a lie. I started doubting the North Korean regime, the government, and my initial promise to the Communist Party and the military. Once I started doubting, it kind of started shaking all the belief that I had, the promise that I had, because I realized that it was based on falsehood. So I was strengthened and I gained a lot of energy by watching Korean dramas and movies.
When it comes to radio listening in North Korea, if you listen to a South Korean radio program, once you get caught, once they find you, you get arrested. You could die. But I started listening to the radio, and at first I couldn't find the right channel. There was a noise and I couldn't find it. But then there was a song. I can't think of the title of the song, but it was sung by the famous singer whose name is Sun Hee Lee, a great singer. There was a song by Hu Na Na. the songs were so much better than in North Korea too. It was fresher. My heart was drawn into these songs and it was different from North Korean songs I had been listening to. And so I started listening to the radio on a daily basis.
There was a song I remember. Whenever I was lonely, if I was really feeling sad and lonely I still remember, the lyric goes like "I came with the dream, I am holding the dream in my heart and there is nothing you cannot do if you try", "the good days, new days, will return to you." It was just so fitting to my situation, to my heart. I was really consoled by that song. This is something I learned after I came to South Korea.
But then, North Korea radio programs are so different. They don't really speak of personal dreams or hope or anything like that. It's all about the propaganda. And another thing, there was another program with a conversation between a woman and a man. They sounded like they're from North Korea, because I think they were actually from North Korea, not South Korean people acting as if they were North Korean. It sounded real. So I heard that specific program, I think the title was "As a people who love their hometown" or something. I listened to that specific program dozens of times, because I wanted to know if this was real or not. There were a lot of rumors like, they were going to lure you by putting on a beautiful woman and then you get arrested. But I kept listening to their own experiences.
I realized that everything I had heard, what I had learned before, I knew it was all falsehood. So I had to listen to that dozens of times until I made up my mind that I want to leave this country for myself, so that I can find my own freedom too. But it took so many times listening to this particular program.
My family member, my brother, asked me,
"Did you change your mind? Now you have changed your mind?"
And then I said, "Yes, yes. Now I have changed my mind."
And he said, "Okay, so I am going to wait for you since you're ready, and you have changed."
And so someone came to me. They picked me up. So with my family, I crossed the Amnok River, the river of death. I went to Thailand first and then I stayed there for about a month. Then I entered South Korea about a month later.
Now, here in South Korea, I am living a free, happy life. Right now I'm thinking about if I had not listened to the radio and TV program at the time, could this be possible? Could I live this happily and freely? And now I'm free, I have nothing to worry about.
So now this is a time for me to actually deliver this good news and deliver this message to people who live in North Korea, so that they learn about this and they can have changed their minds as well. That's why I got involved in this movement, this meaningful cause.
Thank you so much. Choi Guem-nam, would you like to speak next?
Hello, everyone. In November of 2013 I defected to South Korea. The reason that I defected from North Korea is that in the 1970s my father was a well to do official high official, but he made some mistake, and he was imprisoned and eventually executed.
And I was in the military. And even if they killed my father, because of my indoctrination, I just thought that I will be faithful. I've been loyal to the government. I thought that my father must have made some mistake. And he did not, could not protest or make an excuse or speak for himself. And at that time, when I was released after 15 years of military service, they didn't discharge us rather they sent us to the labor force. And I went to work at an airplane manufacturing plant. And, again, I was put into hardship. And it was hard to survive and make a living. And at that time, my older brother was in the security force. And he said, “It's very hard to live there. So why don't you come on out.”
So I was released from the factory and I moved to different cities, from Pyongyang to Sinuiju. And we did a lot of things like a merchant trade. And while doing that, my business, my older brother went to prison, because they said it was illegal to have that kind of free trade. So he was tortured and he was executed. My father had died. My older brother died. I lost it after that. I came to realize that this regime, they persecute the citizens who tried to make their life a little bit better, they didn't do anything wrong.
So in a while, I was working with my older brother, and my older brother would share what his experience was like with the security force. And he told me about the bad aspects of the North Korean government, and the advantages of the South Korean government. And at that time I was able to get a radio made by Sharp. And when I turned on the radio, it was a Free North Korea Radio broadcast system. I heard that sound. I thought it would be a radio broadcast from the North Korean government, but it was from something else. And I said, "What is this?" And I paid attention. Of course, during the day, I could not listen, but at night our family, my mom, my children, my wife huddled under a blanket and we listened to the radio.
And what is most amazing was about the story, testimony of the defectors in South Korea. So looking back, it was a program called "Now On My Way To Meet You". And there was a regular panelist. And when I heard that somebody escaped risking their lives, there was hope. And I also saw, I don't know who sent it, but I think it was Park Sang-hak or somebody, but I saw a flyer that said that in Busan beach, people were enjoying bathing, swimming, and there were tons of car, tons of taxis.
There was another defector. And this person, actually knived the Chinese official in the course of escape, he was in prison, but he was released, and then he defected. So having heard that I thought, maybe I can make it. So after my father and my older brother were killed, I thought maybe I should do this.
My mom told me if you stay here, you're gonna die, you will be killed. So you should leave. You listen to the radio. And even what you share with your older brother, share with you, I think that will be true. You are a man, you should find out what the outside world is like. So my mom pushed me to leave. At that time, my mom was 72 years old. And I wondered when I leave, who will take care of my mom? So I talked to my younger sibling. And I told them I'm going to leave, I'm going to escape, and even in the process of leaving, even if I die, I will not regret it.
So in November, my son was 10 years old. 10 years old. That's elementary school-age, what do they know? So we hid in the mountain. We made a cave and we hid there for about a month. So we practiced. We practiced, exercised, and climbed the mountain. In Mount Paektu there was no guide, so we practiced for about a month how to climb the mountain so that we could have enough strength to actually be able to escape. So we went, we crossed the Tumen River and for four days we only traveled at night, because during the day, there are a lot of patrols. So we tried to avoid that surveillance.
We moved at night. So many miles every night. And then I met somebody in China who helped me and I went to a city, and I heard that if you go to church, somebody will help. I heard that on the radio, if you go to church, a pastor or an evangelist, if you beg them, they will help you. So I went to Chinese churches, five churches, but they rejected me. I knelt down with my family to those Chinese Christians. We escaped because there was no way of surviving in North Korea. My toes were showing in my shoes, my clothes were all worn out. I didn't wash for two months, I was so dirty. But the Chinese churches were organized by Chinese government, so they kicked us out. I was so angry, but I had to find another way. So I had to make my own way.
So I tried to stop talking to somebody who was speaking Chinese, and only spoke to Koreans. One person actually sold us to a pig farm near Siberia. And nobody welcomed us for a month and a half. I was subject to hard labor. We escaped again. And we tried to look for a broker. And finally I met somebody with the right connection. Finally I was able to go to South Korea. Now I live in my own house, I drive my own car, I have my own business. But I told defectors not to go to church because I was rejected. My son is studying business management now. Me and my wife. We don't have a lot of capital. We are operating a small manufacturing plant. Among all the factories in South Korea, no one is involved with any kind of manufacturing business. I'm the only one now. I utilize my experience from that airplane manufacturing plant, so I'm doing that manufacturing now.
The current South Korean regime has illegalized all different methods of information promotion, the flyers and the radio and putting a $1 bill in a PET plastic bottle. These are very effective but somehow this government, this administration, has prevented us from doing this. This administration is so afraid of the North Korean government that they would persecute North Korean refugees in South Korea. So in North Korea, they don't have electricity, they don't have access to radio, but you know I left my radio in North Korea, I'm sure my younger brother is listening, waiting for my story through that radio. I was able to bring my younger brother and older sister out.
There are so many people like me in North Korea. And they are so curious about how people live in the outside world, what the environment is like... So the sooner we bring in the truth and information, they can open their hearts and their eyes. Economic sanctions are not going to work. The harder the sanctions are, Kim will just tighten more of his control. So with radio, with flyers, and plastic bottles, with all necessary means we should share the information to people in North Korea. My mom, when my dad was killed, we couldn't even retrieve the body. My in-laws live in a society of slaves. There is no society like this in the world. Please help me. Please help us. Thank you very much.
It’s so inspiring to hear your story and that you're continuing to do all of this work, including hopefully getting your brother to freedom as well. We hope that that will be the case. Kim Ji-yeon, we now invite you to speak.
Hello everybody, I became a South Korean citizen in 2013. I live in South Korea now. My name is Kim Ji-yeon. And in fact, I actually lived as a citizen of Pyongyang until November 2012. And I crossed the Yalu River and came to South Korea, and the motivation for how I came to South Korea, what can I say? I actually ended up in a position where I had to pledge my loyalty and just dedicated my life to the North Korean government. And then I wanted to find freedom. That's how I wanted to come to South Korea.
When I lived in North Korea, I was well educated. And I was one of those people who obliged. I tried not to do anything that the government told us not to do. But I was the kind of person that the North Korean government had to take care of; I was under their protection. But then I felt like I was betrayed, I experienced betrayal. But then I gave my loyalty to them. But then once I felt betrayed by them, the shock was even more tremendous. And, in fact, in North Korea, we were told that there wasn’t freedom in South Korea and the US. So because I was lied to, I felt so wronged when I lived in North Korea because of the betrayal.
I wanted to go to South Korea or the US and actually speak out, which is anti-North Korea. But then I was actually watching South Korea's movies, also called Korean Wave. We were so thirsty, we were waiting for them to be available because 80% of the movies or news programs that are available in North Korea, that's really about propaganda. That's about the government and their policies. And once we started watching the South Korean dramas and movies, that actually was the beginning point, I began to think that maybe some of them are true.
And so I started listening to the radio before I actually made up my mind to leave for South Korea. And after I started listening to the radio, I wanted more information. Usually, 2-3 am is the best time to listen to the radio, because the radio shortwave is very stable and clear. What struck me most was Free North Korea Radio (FNKR), because for the people of North Korea, other foreign radio broadcasts such as KBS, SBS, and RFA are very hard to comprehend. They use words that North Koreans have never heard of. So, when I found out about FNKR, the very first thing came to my mind was, “Oh, I might be able to understand and relate myself to it.” After I defected to South Korea, I learned that FNKR is run by North Korean defectors. Anyway, as I started listening to FNKR before my defection in the North, the word “North Korea” in the name of FNKR made me think that FNKR truly invokes the sense of familiarity by directly targeting North Koreans. Further, through FNKR, I was very thrilled to find out that North Korean defectors are living well in South Korea. Also, I felt something in my heart as I hear North Korean dialect and accent on FNKR. Eventually, I started imagining myself being on FNKR, telling North Koreans to come to South Korea. I wanted to find out whether North Korean defectors are truly living well in South Korea. I wanted to see it for myself. We need to acknowledge the salient role that radio broadcast has been assuming by directly delivering the stories of North Korean defectors residing in the South to the people of North Korea. It’s mostly about North Korean refugees, defectors who live in South Korea who are living a very good, happy life. And these could be very powerful messages. I think, directly and indirectly, by delivering a message to North Korea, we can help our unification. It’s what we’re working towards: the unification of the Korean peninsula. If North Korean people who are still thinking about leaving the country and defecting, then listening to this type of program can help.
Other types of preparation for unification are already happening outside of North Korea. But this type of effort and preparation has to be also with North Koreans. If you listen to that kind of program and listen to that information, maybe that's North Korean people's preparation for unification.
And this is what the North Korean government fears the most, the informed people who thirst for freedom and who want to have this interchange.
So I think, because we were separated for 70 years, North Korean people, once they listen to the radio programs or TV drama for the first time, it is very possible that they don't know what they're talking about. They don't understand it's the same language. It's not like a different dialect or anything like that, but they won't be able to understand each other. But if they keep listening to a radio program specially designed for the North Korean people, they will start understanding and it will be their preparation for their new life in South Korea. We can help and make their dreams possible.
There is the saying: if you want to win a war, you have to know your enemies. Right. And I think the people who are North Korean, we have to target the educated people. I think it's meaningful and we have to continue to do more of this broadcasting or programming that is about North Korean people. So for this week, this is a very valuable opportunity and a chance that we can amplify our voice for the North Korean people, and what other people, all the stakeholders, are doing for us in this movement. I think it's very meaningful.
Suzanne and Olivia, they have tremendous interest in North Korea, and I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity. Thank you again.
It was really great to hear from you. And I especially liked what you said about how the North Korean government -- the Kim regime -- they fear an informed people and so that's why it's so important to be able to get information into North Korea. So thank you for sharing that.
We have a number of questions coming in from the audience. And I will go ahead and pose one of them to you now. I'm hoping we can get to two or three of them in this panel. The first question is, is there anything that we can do as individuals to promote freedom in North Korea? And I think this is open to any of the panelists. I think maybe we have lost Choi Jeong Ho but hopefully he can join us back here but either Choi Geum Nam or Kim Ji Young, either of you are free to answer that.
Kim Ji Young
what an individual can help, what can they do to help with North Korean freedom, because there's no official or legal channel to send information. And because of that an individual really cannot initiate that kind of information sending to North Korea, but only a certain organization and well organized effort can do that. There are many channels to help out North Koreans in North Korea, Suzanne and Olivia, there are people who work for human rights in North Korea, and even in South Korea there are many organizations that are working for freedom in North Korea now. These organizations need to collaborate and find creative, innovative ways to send information to North Korea. And, as Mr. Choi Geum-nam said, when he asked for help, even the passersby, he was rejected by them. But I think now, there will be more people who are willing to give them help.
Choi Geum-nam, did you want to add something?
When I was rejected from a church in China, now, I understand why that happened. At that time, the Chinese churches were good. But because they were under tight surveillance of Chinese government, if they accept defectors, their church will be shut down. So they had to reject the refugees. Now I understand.
But now I am in South Korea, there are many churches, Catholics, or Buddhists; there's freedom of religion in South Korea. This is a wonderful society. We live in this open freedom society. And we receive care and love from the neighbors. And even people in the United States are helping, but then North Koreans say the United States is their archenemy. I learned that the government of the United States and many countries tried to help promote freedom in North Korea, and they support it. So people in North Korea are not aware of that.
Now through radio programming and flyer distribution, I can make a difference. There is a Korean proverb that says that a small water drop can make a hole in a rock or something like that. It's a small effort that can make a difference.
Now there are 30,000 defectors, I think it will increase to 300,000 in some time. My older brother in the security force told me he saw a secret document, a classified document, that 1,200,000 escaped from North Korea. And there was some sort of data about the factors. So when I came to South Korea, Kim Yoo Jung, Park Sang Hak, all these people. They sent that information to us through a flyer or balloon or radio. Because if you send it to Kangwon, you can receive it. You can receive the broadcast very clearly, especially at night. It's a clear broadcast. So the defectors testimony of their hometown in North Korea there with their own North Korean dialect, these stories are so moving.
So you're aware that when you go to China, there's a lot of bright lights but in North Korea, it's utterly dark. In North Korea, you are not to listen, you are not to talk, you're not to see, you cannot express. I now know why. But the nature of people when they are prevented from doing something, they’d rather do more.
People in North Korea, they have already gone through hell, they are not afraid. For them to see one or two programs of South Korean media used to be like, I had to watch like 10 episodes to be convinced, but now only one or two episodes can convince people and open their eyes. So through CD or USB, North Korean people will be convinced contentwise, then they raised awareness, and they can topple Kim's regime, and give freedom to North Korean people. Give life and let them know that outside of North Korea it's not the same that and people of outside are willing to help them and give them love and care.
And I would really like to plead with you, please help detectors, and please help North Korean people. Again, as I said, out of three male leaders, my father and my older brother were killed. If I stayed there, I would have died. There is no regime like this in the world. In South Korea they don't execute their people. There may be prison, and life sentencing. But just because somebody asked for some food this person was hung, hung to death. How can you say this is a humane society? Even now, I'm 50 years old, if I am given a gun, I will fight for the freedom of North Korea.
Thank you so much Choi Guem-nam. I think that we ended on such an important note a call to action for every single person to help the people of North Korea and I love the way that you put it that every little bit every little action adds up into being something really big that can help individuals inside of North Korea. Choi Guem-nam, Kim Ji-young, and I think we also lost Choi Jeong Ho, but thank you to all of you for your contributions to this panel. I'm now going to welcome my colleague, Bruce Klingner to kick off our second panel. And that promises to be a very fascinating panel as well. But thanks to all for joining us.
Thank you very much, Olivia, and thank you to our panelists. It really was quite a moving panel to hear the hardships that they've had to endure in both North and now in South Korea. We're all familiar with the nighttime satellite photos of the Korean Peninsula that show the very vivid difference between the dark, brutal oppression and poverty of North Korea from the brightness of the economic miracle of the Republic of Korea. Those photos show that North Korea is a black hole, a country in which the lights of freedom, the lights of democracy, of human rights, and for far too many people even the lights of hope have been extinguished.
Through this conference, we hope to bring some light of awareness and knowledge to the very serious issue of North Korean human rights and, even more importantly, we hope that the activities that we'll hear about on the second panel will have an impact on North Korea. The North Korean escapees have faced authorities that tried to prevent the freedom of speech in North Korea. And unfortunately they're now facing South Korean authorities that seek to do the same.
As Olivia has mentioned, when Suzanne Scholte came to us asking if we could co-host another event as we have done in the past, we jumped at the chance. We always embrace working with Suzanne and others who advocate on behalf of North Korean escapees and as well as host our own events.
Suzanne put together a really well-organized theme. On Monday, at AEI with Nick Eberstadt and Olivia Scheiber, there was the theme of Open Hearts of having the escapees discuss the human rights situation in North Korea. Tonight's theme, as we've heard, is Open Minds. We heard in the first panel how information getting into North Korea did open their minds to what life was like outside of North Korea, which was a vivid contrast to what the regime had been telling them.
In the second panel, we'll hear about the efforts that many of these escapees are making to try to open even more minds in North Korea. And then immediately after this event, there's another event with the theme of Open Borders with Dr. Pavel Klein of the Isabella Foundation that will discuss the current state of the vulnerable population, especially children in North Korea, and how humanitarian assistance can be provided to address the needs of the population.
As you've noticed, we've had some technical issues tonight, but please bear with us. We're dealing with two different continents, two different time zones, two different languages, but of far greater concern, we've lost contact with two of our panelists. We're unsure where they are and we are concerned and hopeful and praying for their safety.
So on this panel we've lost two of the panelists. As a replacement, first we'll hear from Kim Seong Min who's the founder of Free North Korea Radio. He will discuss the situation with the two missing panelists, as well as discuss in greater detail what he has been doing to try to get information into North Korea via radio. The second panelist will be Choi Jung Hoon, who will brief on foreign radio broadcasts into North Korea as well as Kpop SD cards. He was a graduate of Kim Il Sung military school and the 144th division political officer. Before his defection, he worked in Ryanggang province construction company. Then our third panelist will be Jeong Se Yuel, who will brief on sending outside information in North Korea via balloons. He was a North Korean metallurgy university professor, the Chongjin Association of construction technician and he escaped from North Korean and moved to South Korea in 2008. He is the president of the Geryol Unification Association. So first, I'm going to ask if Kim Seong Min could unmute his microphone and talk to us not only about Free North Korea Radio but about our two panelists.
Kim Seong Min
Hello, I am Kim Seong Min. So I was not supposed to speak. I am speaking in place of Park Sang-hak. First of all, to Suzanne Scholte, I have to say thank you. My sincere gratitude for making this event a reality. And to other stakeholders Including, Mr. Bruce Klingner, thank you very much. And I have to say, we are suffering. For example, Mr. Park Sang-hak this week wanted to distribute the leaflets. He came under severe surveillance by the Moon Jae In administration. They've been watching Mr. Park in the mere name of protecting their safety, but then it's actually surveillance and suppression of their activities.
They declared that they're going to distribute the leaflets and send information to North Korea. Ever since they declared that, the police activities towards them have dramatically changed. This is literally a visible suppression, they don't want them to do that. It's very clear. Distributing leaflets to North Korea and radio broadcasting, they are very important. I have to say, this is the symbolization of our aching hearts, because we feel sorry. We feel sorry and we feel we owe them because we are living happily in freedom. Our friends and our relatives, they're still in pain and under oppression. It makes my heart ache.
Our wish is that they would come here as well and live happily, just like us. This is very important. I cannot say this enough. Ever since the Moon administration took control, it has changed so much. They have this new policy or law and distributing leaflets is now illegal. If you do that you are going to be punished by the law. And then you'll be jailed. The fine would be more than 30,000 US dollars. They're actually denying all the work that has been done by previous administration and North Korean defectors, this entire history. And this is backward. And we have to realize the severity of this policy and activities of this current administration.
Other people including Sang-hak Park, Jang Se-yuel, and Park Jung Oh will say, as the previous speakers testified, that they lived in the dark, and they lived as a fog, they were in a frog, confined in a well. But then because of this information, radio and other information, it made them, made their mind resolute. Now we cannot do that anymore. These important activities help them to open their minds and then make a resolution to leave the country. We cannot do that any longer.
Not too long ago, along with Park Sang-hak and Jang Se-yuel and other people I was asked to help them with the funding. I said that in my current activities, I am struggling myself. How can I help you with the funds and aid? But then I suddenly realized that I experienced the very same thing. I answered them, I told them that there is going to be North Korea Freedom Week. The members of that North Korea freedom committee said that we're going to open an event, then we're going to gather money, we're going to fundraise. We're going to distribute the proceeds to different organizations.
Let's talk about the police. Our police are supposed to work for our safety and freedom. But then, I don't even know if this is how the police are supposed to be. The Moon Jae-in administration is just afraid of the Kim Jong Un administration. I'm just talking about an example of how our organizations, who are working for North Koreans’ freedom, we're just suffering, double suffering actually under the Moon Jae-in administration. There is a lack of aid and funds. And they're trying to pass another article of law that they were trying to prevent broadcast to North Korea as well. The National Assembly is also trying to pass this law for Moon's administration. Once it passes, a lot of broadcasts, even from the US and from Asia, because they're using the channel based in South Korea, once this policy or law is passed, it's basically going to block all the routes for us to deliver our message, all of the broadcast opportunities. I just cannot imagine this because this is a free country. There were checkpoints everywhere and they were stopping. And I am asking you, US citizens, all the stakeholders in the US, do you think it makes sense? I don't think so. This is unacceptable. We are still acting, we're still sending leaflets to North Korea. We did that yesterday. We're doing it today. We're going to do that tomorrow. We're not going to stop. But the leaflets and the broadcasts to North Korea, have been done for many decades by the Korean government officially and these for the food for their minds, and for their hope. And I think this is an evil policy that they prevent us and it's going to be judged and it's going to be punished by history. Thank you very much.
Mr. Jang Se-yuel, if you could go ahead and do your presentation, sir.
This is Jang Se-yeul Jang from Geryol Unification Association. Thank you very much. As Mr. Kim Seong Min shared, the Moon administration is suppressing a lot of defector organizations that tried to bring information to North Korea. We've been affected a lot. They're trying to squeeze the source. And we are really exhausted. This is a very interesting phenomena.
About two weeks ago, my wife and I went to Ganghwa Island and I have a small motel business. So I went there and I left for the Island. And there is another small island called Sunmu Island where there is a bridge. Once we got onto the bridge, there were a lot of cars, there's a lot of traffic, and you're trying to pass by. But there were soldiers and they stopped my car. And my wife and I were startled, what is this? It was not a truck. I mean, I was just a regular sedan. It wasn't that I was driving a truck. So they wanted to search our car. But all the other cars in front of me were not searched, but why were they searching my car, I wondered. So I asked him why. This car has been specially registered. And it's not the individual soldiers fault. The government has ordered the soldier to do it.
But I was really embarrassed because a lot of people think that maybe we did something, some criminal activity because we are asked to pull over and a lot of people look at us as if we are criminals, and my wife was so upset. And I asked them, why are you searching our car? And that the officer said that there's a lot of North Korea information activity being supplied through this bridge. But this was a regular sedan. I didn't have any kind of equipment. But there was no point in getting upset with them. But my heart was heavy.
I wanted to go to my hometown. And this government is preventing us from doing that. Is this administration truly for the people of North Korea? And does this South Korean government truly want North Korean lives to be improved? I shared this with a friend of mine as well, recently. Because the South Korean government is pro-North Korea, there is a lot of intelligence activity that has been curtailed. So even the North Korean people who used to have some sort of information exchange activity, are now reducing their activity. More North Koreans have been arrested recently, because of their kind of activity of receiving information. Even people in North Korea are being penalized by the activities of the South Korean government.
Up to now, we have said that the balloons are like the head of Kim Jong Un. That was our nickname. So a lot of these balloons have gone to North Korea. The leaflet, the snack, choco pie, that's a very popular snack, and also other food and even handwritten letters were sent to North Korea. We did it for about five years. This came to a sudden stop because of the Moon administration's activity. It’s not allowed. Now we are subject to police surveillance, search, and investigation. And our activity has been greatly suppressed.
As a defector who came to South Korea and having been raised in North Korea, my heart is heavy. This is nonsense. This society is really terrible and scary. We cannot even engage in a human rights activity and any activity for unification is going to get more and more difficult. Since I came to South Korea, this was the most unfair treatment I have experienced. I feel this is supposed to be a free society and North Korean people have misunderstandings about South Korea and they think the South Korean society is their enemy. So this South Korean society gave me a new opportunity. Now, along with my friends and my colleagues, I want to share the truth about South Korea, about democracy, about freedom, and I want to make a contribution. So I have taken it on as my mission to send information truth to North Korea. Many defectors, their trigger, what one motivate them to escape and defect to South Korea is precisely this information, either leaflet or broadcast, especially the voices of defectors and a lot of civic organizations that tried to help freedom in North Korea, there was a most effective trigger.
It's up to you to make the way for North Korean people and our step toward freedom. The Moon administration isn’t quenching their hunger. They are trampling their hopes. What is the life that North Korean people want? We have to be very clear about that. I want to send this warning or word of caution.
Yesterday in our home, the officials from the South Korean government, the Unification Ministry visited me. As I've said, I have had that motel business for about six years. They never visit. They never paid attention. Occasionally, some police or the soldiers would come and they would do some search. Or they would give us some notice. But suddenly a different level of officials came. Over the phone they said they wanted to visit this motel, since I’m the chairperson of Geryol Unification Association. They wanted to check how the organization is doing and how we are doing. I politely refused. I told them that this South Korean Unification Ministry is not only monitoring and surveillancing, but rather suppressing our activity toward North Korea. So I told them that I have nothing to say to those officials. And I had a good chance to meet the person in charge of surveillancing defectors and our organizations.
The North Korean policy of the current administration is really nonsense. Even these officials said they want to support the sending of information to North Korea, but under current administration, the government officials' hands are tied, because this is a directive from higher up so even though they are embarrassed, they would have to make this visit. So with leaflets or water balloons nicknamed Kim Jong Un's ahead, they asked us to stop those activities. So I told them since we came to South Korea, the sacred thing, the mission, the most important thing for us now is this: to send information to North Korea. This is the most important activity for me, to liberate my people in North Korea. And I want to do what I can to help defectors who don't have money. We don't have status or fame. But I had pride that I was doing something for the freedom of North Korea, but this administration has taken that way. That was a very significant, fulfilling activity in my life. And they took that away, saving my family and friends. I wanted to help save people of North Korea from their suffering. Now, the Moon administration really put a nail into the coffin of all these human rights activities of defectors. We need to reconsider what is truly needed for people in North Korea and for defectors and for many other activities for North Korea. I wanna rededicate our commitment to continue this activity. Thank you.
That was very important information, as well as a very emotional plea of seeking help to further the efforts of improving human rights in North Korea. Now, we'll hear from Mr. Choi Jeong-hoon, could you go ahead and make your presentation sir?
My name is Choi Jung-hoon. The organization that I am involved with, this is a human rights organization for North Korean people. And mostly, we are people who served in the military. And we usually work with video, media, and SD cards, especially the video materials. But it’s not just our organization doing this, but many other organizations too. However, the broadcast and any video material sent to North Korea has been circumvented by the Moon Jae-in administration.
So how the media is accessed is from this. This is a Notel. You insert the USB and you can watch videos of the developments of South Korea and the international world, also news, and you can get a sort of CD or DVD and you can watch information and other video materials. And so there is this outlet you can connect to. You can insert something in it and you can also watch a Chinese broadcast. Ever since the 1940s, we started receiving outside information through China. And since 2000, a lot more information has flowed in through China. The most famous TV drama, the Korean drama, is “Stairway to Heaven." If any North Korean is asked to speak about their experience watching Korean drama or TV, that drama will be mentioned, I'm pretty sure. Ever since these materials were brought in through China to North Korea, the Kim regime organized a force to prevent this, to search people and to find out about the ways these materials are flowing into North Korea. So basically, this is a special force to arrest people who are bringing these materials and things like that.
For more than 50 years, the North Korean government was trying to brainwash us, saying that South Korean people are just the minions of the US government and that South Korea is full of beggars and panhandlers on the street. That they were so poor, with dirty streets, and they didn't have any place to live. But then after we watched this drama, and other outside information, we realized, for sure, that this was all falsehood, and we've been lied to for the past 50 years. So we all collected our pennies and dimes and nickels, and we purchased these Notel and other devices. We started sending these devices. We heard this testimony from those in North Korea. They had it when there was the World Cup, the soccer tournament was available in North Korea. They actually watched that tournament using these devices that we sent. And in North Korea, if you want to own a radio, you have to report it and register it with the North Korean government. The radio or the channel will be fixed on one point so that they can only listen to government broadcasts. But most recently, a lot of people started owning a device that looks like a cell phone. So we can bring in the outside information and drama and other things and you can listen to them. You can insert earphones into this and you can watch using these small devices as well. I received this news from North Korea, Free North Korea Radio, they listened to this and other broadcasts. Most importantly, the most interesting program was, “North Korean Military 24 Hours,” roughly translated. That was the most interesting program for us, because it was about our North Korean people. Also KBS, Radio Free Asia, they broadcast too, but this particular program is about North Korean people themselves who defected to other places. They testify and they speak of their own experiences. I think it's very powerful. It's even more powerful to North Koreans who are still in North Korea.
But the Moon Jae-in administration has suppressed these activities and we're basically being oppressed. Our activities of sending these devices, the government doesn't let us do it. For example, Park Sang-hak’s leaflet activities, as you probably heard, Mr. Park Jung-ho and Park Sang-hak are missing right now. We don't know where they are. I think they went off the grid intentionally, because they realize that they are being watched. If that's the case, we don’t need to worry too much. But what if they were actually arrested secretly, and we don't know what happened. So I am also worried that they might have been arrested. If that's the case, there are many North Korean defectors who support our cause and movement. They will fight to the death for freedom.
So this is the worst thing that is done by the North Korean and South Korean administration, blocking our activities to help North Korean so that they can have more information, sending them information. They are targeting these stakeholders who are working in these various organizations for North Korean Korean people in this type of movement. But then, even if we have to die, we have to give our lives up, we would not stop our activities to help North Korean people. We have to help them, the North Korean people, because they are under suppression of this closed up country under dictatorship. We have to help them. We cannot stop this. So currently, for example, Suzanne Scholte and other stakeholders. We rely on you, we rely on your help. Thank you for your attention.
That was very interesting. I learned a lot. I received a message to clarify something that I apparently misspoke before. The Moon Jae-in government cannot stop Free North Korea Radio, as it's supported by Americans and Korean Americans and its transmission is not done from South Korea. I believe I may have misspoke.
We have questions that I'll bring in here. And I'll throw them open to any of the panelists. Can we get a sense of the effectiveness of these messages by the escapees that leave North Korea and come to South Korea and can tell us how many messages they saw? How do we get a sense of how effective the messaging is to those people who are still in North Korea? When someone escapes, do we hear that many of their friends have heard these messages? Or is everyone so fearful of the security services that they don't tell their friends, they don't tell their neighbors that they've heard these messages. So how do we know how widespread the messaging is getting to North Koreans?
If you/d like to know how widespread this information is or is available to North Korea; you asked, what if the people who are in contact with this type of information are afraid of delivering this information to their neighbors or friends? Right now, it's very different even in Pyongyang. And so this is official from the current South Korean government because they already talked to the North Korean government. And it's a mutual thing. The sister of Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jung actually destroyed the broadcast tower that was located in North Korea. And that actually shows how widespread this type of information is available to North Korea. That's how they react to it.
We can tell the information and other things are reaching Kaesong province and also Hamhung province through China, across the Tumen River and Yalu rivers, through the border line. And Notel and radios and foreign devices and other contents are very widespread. I don't have the exact number, but I know for a fact that it's even more active now. But then, more importantly, although there is an ongoing suppression and circumvention from both administrations, we should not worry about that. because I know that North Korean people have this will to listen, will to know, and will to learn about the world outside of North Korea. They want to know. I think even in the inner part of North Korea, South Pyongan province and other areas, information was actually deeply and widely spread. There are these merchants and dealers who deliver devices and information, even to people who live far from the China-North Korea border.
We did interviews with the most recently defected North Korean people. According to those interviews and information, and the collective information that we learned from those interviews, the North Korea people know. It's widespread. through the media and other information from foreign devices. So their loyalty doesn't lie with Kim's regime and his family anymore because they think differently. So again, I don't know the exact number how many people actually were exposed or have been exposed to this type of information, but more than before. And it’s gonna be even more widespread from now on.
Kim Seong Min
May I say something too?
Yes, go ahead.
Kim Seong Min
So, there is information on this. According to the Broadcasting Board of Governors of the US, they did some surveys. According to the survey, 85% of North Korean people are actually listening to the radio. So this survey was conducted among 200 NK defectors and 20 of them have had traveled to China in the past. Also in 2008. we did some surveys with 200 North Korean defectors, and there was this foreign agency who conducted this survey among 200 North Korean defectors. 73 people have listened. Another survey shows that 98 out of 200 NK defectors said they've listened to foreign radio broadcast at least once before their defection.
Also, there was another research or survey conducted from Ewha Women's University. Out of 200, 173 people were exposed to K-drama. That's a big number. In 2012, there was another survey with 200 people, through various NGO and other organizations, 165 people were exposed. Also a big number. And also the Japanese Government conducted a similar survey. They conducted surveys of defectors who defected since 2016. And also here, over 70% of people were exposed to drama or information of some sort. This shows that a lot of people, a majority of North Korean defectors are exposed to information. They're thirsty for this type of information, for radio or video materials or just a simple single leaflet.
Once they are exposed to this type of information, the shock they feel and the impact on them is beyond our imagination. From USB too. And I think Choi Jeong-hoon did not mention it, but there is this SD, a very tiny chip. Korean Wave, Kpop, this chip can hold almost 800 different songs in this small thing. The North Korean government is aware of this. There is a little slot in the device where you can put this SD card. They actually manufacture the device without that port, so that the SD card couldn't be inserted. So this is like a double blocking from both ends, because we want to send them information and water balloons, but then that is blocked by the Korean government, and the SD card, even if we send it. But we have to think of ways to help them. We have to think of and find out the complex, comprehensive ways to help them, to deliver the message to them. And this actually should be done from the South Korean government. But then they declare they're now they’re not going to do it and they're even going to prevent us from doing that. That's why we're more active. We're looking for ways to help them. So help us so that we see more results, so we can keep marching this road and continue our journey.
We have a hard stop at 7pm Eastern Time because of the next event with the Isabella Foundation. So we unfortunately couldn't get to other questions. I thank you all in the audience for bearing with us through our technical issues. As well as our two last panelists, I was struck by how widespread the message is getting in North Korea. That is very encouraging, given the difficulties that the escapees face in getting the message to North Korea, it must encourage you to know it's working and it's not that you're shouting into the wind.
It's also interesting to see that some of the most effective messaging is from the soap operas or just the soft messages as opposed to very strong anti-regime messages. And I think that we've heard that from other escapees. It's unfortunate that given the courage and the bravery that the escapees have faced trying to work against the North Korean regime and its efforts to stifle free speech, that now they are also facing efforts in South Korea to stifle free speech. It seems to be part of a growing trend of progressive authoritarianism.
So as we conclude tonight's event here at the Heritage Foundation, I'm very grateful to our colleagues formerly from North Korea, as well as Suzanne Scholte and the other organizers for this event. We welcome the opportunity to light a candle against the darkness of North Korean human rights violations. And we encourage everyone to remain observant of what's happening in North Korea, and do what we can to try to bring about a resolution that unfortunately people have had to work so many years against North Korean human rights violations, because the situation has not improved. So with that, I thank all of our panelists and others behind the scenes who were involved and we are now concluded. Kamsahamnida.
Kim Seong Min
Thank you, kamsahamnida