|"I Was a Broker" (10)|
"I Was a Broker" (10)
North Korean defector and activist
Entered South Korea in 2000
We got on the train. Hours passed yet police officers were nowhere in sight. Everything seemed to be going well. Everyone seemed to be in a good emotional state. Crossing the border in this state wouldn’t be a problem. I believed this team could cross the border without any great problems. I called the man I knew in Yanbian and told him that everything was going smoothly with this group and that they would succeed no matter what. I asked him to send word to South Korea that they have made it to their destination safely. Since today was the Lunar New Year, even if we arrived in Yiryeon, I wouldn’t be able to call South Korea. However, I believed it prudent to send news of our situation right now. There were fewer travelers on our train than I expected, and we could arrive in Yiryeon safely. After a while, we made it to the outskirts of the city and we quietly said our goodbyes. I made my way back to a motel. Throughout this mission, I had been under constant stress starting with my visa renewal, as well as the transportation difficulties we faced due to the holiday closing. I thanked God for watching over us while we made the perilous 2400 km journey and prayed for the well being of my companions. In a few hours, happy news of their success should arrive soon.
It seemed like it has been years since I had first entered Siliyin Qota detention center. For the first few days, I was interrogated for hours. They repeatedly asked me the same questions, which made me mentally exhausted. I was tired of how they would ignore the written laws to mechanically question me as if they were cold robots. Detention extension was pushed to September 10th, and I didn’t know when I would be indicted or when my trial would be. Every time I was questioned, I begged them to look after my companions but Su Ingji stopped responding to me. Early September in Inner Mongolia was cold and felt like a frosty November in South Korea. I had no spare underwear nor did I have any warm clothing. I was always cold in my cell. Other prisoners already had warm clothing that their family had sent. I envied them since they had families, siblings, and friends to send them warm clothes. As they saw me, freezing in my summer clothes, they said that once winter arrived, the prison would handout winter clothes. When would that be? I had come into China toward the end of June, and only had thin summer clothes on my back.
Toward lunchtime, an older officer called me out and took me near the exit where a few men were waiting for me on a sofa. There was a tall sturdy looking man that stood out, instantly. He was conversing with the officers with and he appeared furious. After a moment, he came toward me called my name and thanked me. He explained that he was the consul from South Korea. He would have to change flights twice to get here from Beijing and I had landed myself in this situation because I had messed up. Still when he thanked me, I was speechless so I politely apologized to him. The consul, investigation director, translator, Detention Center’s vice manager, and I went to the vice manager’s room in the 4th district in the detention center. There was no sunlight in the room and there was a big desk with several desks laid out neatly along the walls. The consul and I sat down facing each other at the desk in the middle with the vice manager, Su Ingji, and the translator sitting at the desk around the wall. The consul told me he admired my effort and comforted me once more. He questioned me in detail such as where and why I was arrested, and if there had been any human rights violations such as harsh beatings. I apologized again that he had come so far for me and asked for a cigarette. The consul leaned over the desk to give me a cigarette and even helped me light it. He asked me if I smoked. I replied that I didn’t drink but I occasionally smoked. I added that ever since I had been in this place, I was so angry that I wished I could drink and smoke in here. I summarized briefly what had happened to me so far and that I didn’t trust investigation director’s words that the three refugees that had been arrested with me could go to South Korea with me if they behaved well. The consul replied that he would get in touch with related organizations and departments in order to make sure that these refugees were not repatriated to the best of his abilities. I told him that there was a list of refugees in a department of South Korean Foreign Affairs for Northeast Asia, and that if the list wasn’t there, the XXX organization in South Korea will have a list of their names. I told him the names and the ages of the refugees that were trapped here. He wrote down everything I told him and asked me if I had any messages for people in South Korea. I asked him to send news of my situation to Huh Gwang-Il and another person and told him their phone numbers that I had memorized. Usually, I had difficulties remembering phone numbers but after my first arrest, I had memorized three phone numbers during my urgency. However, there was no way for me to know if those phone numbers were correct. I told him that if these numbers were wrong, he could at least at Huh Gwang-Il directors’ number on the Internet if he searched for Association for NK defectors preparing for unification. I asked him to ask Huh to send me some warm winter clothes because the weather was so harsh here and ask him not to let anyone in South Korea work for my liberation.
The reason I sent a message to Huh is that I had left phone numbers with him, telling him to contact the number should he lose touch with me. I warned him not to share his name, nor ask for his or her names, and asked him to take good care of someone who was coming out of South Korea to take over my role. I had prepared for the worst-case scenario, that scenario being that I was trapped in China with all of my plans forcefully halted. Also, there were 5-6 defectors that were scheduled to depart in September but in order for them to find another way to escape; I had to let Huh know about them. When I had worked in China, he worried often for my personal problems, and I had helped a few refugees who had asked me for help through him. Outwardly, we were helping the refugees make the three-country escape but our final target was North Korea. North Korea could never change and we wanted to use all means available to us to bring about change in the mentality of North Koreans and plant seeds of democracy in their hearts. Huh had always told me that democratization of North Korea is only possible through action, not words. I gave him my emergency contacts and asked him to move. I had said all I had to say to the consul, and he told me that he would visit me once a month and that if he couldn’t make it to my trial, then he would send someone else in his stead. As for my three companions, he said that in reality, they were not registered as South Korean citizens and that due to problems in international relations; it might be difficult to intervene in their behalf. However, he said that he would try his best to stop forceful repatriation. He inquired after my health as well as my diet in the prison and told me that Jang Mi-Suk was having great difficulties here since she was having difficulties adjusting to the food. He appeared truly upset over my situation here, and seemed to want to genuinely help.