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"I Was a Broker" (34)
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2016-01-26 12:27:50
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 "I Was a Broker" (34)


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



Winter nights were long and prisoners would sleep lightly cocooned in their thin blankets and wonder in the morning that was due at court that day. Today was Monday and several were already in court for their trials and after the trial they would know who would be sentenced to manual labor in prison and who would be released with a fine. In cases of penalty fines, release would occur only days after the trial so it was of the greatest interest to prisoners who often dreamed of freedom. The window sill in the cell was covered with frost. The snow was swirling around the prison ground in a great circle as if it was creating a universe of its own. Winter was the hardest season for me since I only had a thin prison uniform and I felt as if the fluttering snow was sending me a warning of what was to come. Sometimes the law enforcement vehicle would loudly blare its sirens and take the prisoners to court, only brining them back after the trial was over. However, this morning, all was quiet. The prisoners in the cell all sat in order to avoid the camera and quietly shared stories of their fights and thefts. The officer on duty opened the door and called my name. I thought that my trial was today since it had been about 30 days since I had been indicted. I brought out my indictment with me and followed the officer into the prison office. Inside the room, there were three rows of ten screens that showed each cells in live feed. A young officer behind a desk seemed to have been waiting for me. He handcuffed me wordlessly and I followed him submissively out the prison. It was the first time I had been in the outside world in months. The main door of the prison seemed to be wider than I remembered and there was a law enforcement vehicle waiting for us to the side. Our cars slid along the icy road through the dreary weather and stopped in front of a won down building near the Chinese Public Security building in downtown. The short cement building felt ominous. Above the entrance door were the words "Siliyin Qota high court of justice” carved onto it and after we entered, a long corridor laid out before us. I followed the officer down a corridor and through the courtroom numbered 103. The courtroom was small, about 30 meters squared, and the tall consul, Mr. Choi, greeted me warmly.  I had no idea that he was going to be at my trial and I suddenly felt joyous at this welcome surprise. Someone at the court said something and the officer uncuffed me before exiting out the corridor. I sincerely thanked the consul for coming this far even. He pointed out a tall man behind him and said “Your friend came to see you as well.” I was speechless at the unexpected presence of a man who claimed to me a friend and I could only manage to thank him until I was led to sit in the defendant’s seat. This man must have been the friend that my lawyers had referred to when I had first met them days ago. Yet, this man was completely unknown to me. I prayed silently to the Lord to watch over this trial. As I waited, I wondered who this ‘friend’ was but I couldn't figure it out. Even as the trial started, the question of the man’s identity plagued me. The judge’s seat was right in front of me. The court scribe had a computer and was situated in front of the judge, and stared shamelessly at me. To the right of the judge was the prosecutor who had investigated me from Xilin Gol League and there was another woman next to the prosecutor with stacks of paper in front of her. Next to the woman was Kim Bok-Soon who came from Siliyin Qota’s Sector of Foreign Affairs as a translator. Next to the translator was a Korean-Chinese woman. Across from the prosecutor were my lawyers, Han-Chinese Cheuchiwaen and Mongolian lawyer Woobateoeol with a translator sitting in between them. The women translator was extremely intelligent and it was thanks to her effort that my lawyers could confidently defend me. She was the one that convinced me to accept their help by explaining that they might be sent by the Lord. My courtroom was extremely small, and there was hardly any walking room. The consul and the man claimed to be my friend sat next to each other right behind me with two other men with blank expressions. My judge seemed easy-going and conducted the trial with a quiet voice, introducing the prosecutors, translators, lawyers, and the recorder. The translators enunciated clearly for my benefit. The report of the prosecutors followed. The young prosecutor held a thick envelope and spoke about the incident and the investigation. I think he was trying to show that his investigation was precise and accurate. After the prosecutor’s presentation, the judge asked in a heavy tone me if I admitted to the crimes the  prosecutor had charged me with. I replied politely that all was true. The judge asked me why I was trying to send the defectors to Mongolia. I answered that I came to China to avoid starvation and suffered so much on this land. Even today, many refugees came to China to find food yet they live in hardship; their only wish is to get to South Korea. Defectors have come to me asking help in getting to South Korea and I provided such services for them. The judge asked me if I admitted to breaking the Chinese Law. I said that I don’t know Chinese and that I didn’t know Chinese Law. I added that I didn’t know that sending refugees to the third country was against the Chinese law and humbly requested the Chinese government and the judiciary to pass a merciful judgment on my mistake. In court, I remembered the words of the lawyers and tried to reply as politely as possible. When the judge said something to the lawyers, the tall Cheuchiwaen stood up and said that I had no family and came to China to escape starvation and that I helped my companions thinking about my own past. He said that since this act was committed without any knowledge of the Chinese Law, it would be more appropriate to teach me law for a few weeks and send me back to South Korea rather than force me to do manual labor in prison. He said that I have been a model prisoner and that I had been repenting my mistakes and that it would be most prudent to give a merciful verdict. After the lawyer’s defense was over the persecutor said that I had created chaos in the quiet order in the border and gave examples of fortified Supreme Court ordinances and demanded a punishment fit for the crime. I hated the prosecutor for suddenly chilling the atmosphere of the trial and if the verdict progressed according to the prosecutor, I might be faced with something unimaginable horrible. My heart was pounding. Woobateoeol, who was sitting next to the judge, handed over a written note to the judge. Cheuchiwaen seemed to think his defense wasn’t strong enough and stood up and said that I had been regretting my crimes and that I broke the law without knowing the law. He asserted that I can fix my mistakes after being educated on the law and that this verdict was the right thing to do. I could tell that his tone was stronger than before. Cheuchiwaen was defending me so boldly at a degree that shocked the communist government. They seemed to debate something in the judge’s seat until the Judge announced recess. I thanked the lawyers and the consul for their help. The consul, who had been sitting behind me during the trial, had watched my proceedings with a stern face. Even though I was in a courtroom in China, I had South Korea protecting me and I silently thanked those who had put their efforts into liberating me. The consul said that people were watching me and told me to converse with my friends. I thanked him for helping my friend and he replied that his name was Lee Kyung-Whan and that he was the head of the planning department from North Korean Rescue Movement and that Kim Sang-Chul, President of this Movement asked him to free me. I had heard of Mr. Kim before but I had never met him. I thanked him for his efforts to release me, and asked him to not tell my elderly neighbor of my arrest but to ask her to prevent the pipe from freezing. As the judge, prosecutors and the lawyers milled out, the police came over to put handcuffs on me. The Consul said that he would give me 1000 won for the prison to keep in custody until my release but I expected the money he sent in October to be there so I declined. He told me to be brave since I should be released soon. I wasn’t able to properly bid farewell to Lee Kyung-Whan but as I looked back after I got in the car, he stood in outside in the cold and waved good-bye until we were too far to away to make him out. I regretted being unable to say my proper good-byes to those that came this far just for me. I felt guilty watching Mr. Lee wave at me with the cold winter wind cutting into him. When I returned to South Korea, I learned that individuals and organizations such as Kim Sang-Chul from North Korean Rescue Movement, Tim Peterson from Hands Helping Korea, Priest Jung Pedro from North Korea Justice Act, and Choi Young-Hoon from Ryu Sang-Jun Rescue Movement HQ as well as many churches and citizen’s movements had worked actively and aggressively and for my release. They had prayed and raised money for me and worked hard to find lawyers for me in China. Kim Sang-Chul asked Lee Hyung-Hwan to find proficient lawyers for me since Mr. Lee had experience working in the Beijing Embassy. Lee Kyung-Hwan asked the Inner Mongolia Lawyer Association to recommend two lawyers and the association had provided two very skilled ones. The consul and Lee Kyung-Hwan, who arrived in Siliyin quota a day before my trial took place, met each person involved with my trial and asked for their best efforts to try to free me. Through the support and the prayer of many, my trial went without a hitch, and I could go home to South Korea soon. I am a man without a name. Even the people I helped enter South Korea don’t know my name. I had lived a quiet and solitary life. Yet, a miracle had befallen me—the love and the concern of so many people could have only been happened with the help of the Lord. In the midst of my resentments and complaints, I only had the Lord to rely on, and I prayed to the Lord like I was a drowning man grasping straws. Even though there were many prisoners in my cell, there were cultural and ethnic disparities as well as language barriers and differences in crime. As a result, I had no friends in the cell; I could only rely on the Lord. There were no communication barriers between the Lord and I and I could all of my thoughts and feelings freely. About a fortnight after the trial, my cellmates believed my future liberation as a fact and stepped up to help make my prison life easier. There wasn’t much they could provide for me in our small cell but they helped clean my corner and provided food for me. I could witness the kindness and concern of my cellmates through their actions. Usually, a monetary penalty sentence or a not guilty verdict led to release within a week of the trial, yet there was no news even after a fortnight for me. My fellow prisoners comforted me saying that since I was a foreigner, it must be different. If I wasn’t released by Friday, then I wouldn’t see freedom on Saturday or Sunday.