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Escaping the Paradise on Earth (2)
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2020-05-21 11:09:38
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 Escaping the Paradise on Earth (2)


Mr. Lee Tae-Kyoung

President of Association of Victims of Forced Repatriation to North Korea

Escaped from North Korea in 2007

And Entered South Korea in 2009

Illustration by Mr. Ahn Choong-kook, Student at Hongik University College of Fine Arts



Among the historical quagmire between the North Korean government, the Japanese government, the Japanese Red Cross, the South Korean government, and Chongryon, the ethnic Koreans living in Japan had no choice but to go back to North Korea. Tae-Gyung Lee was also one of the ethnic Koreans who was born and raised in Japan and repatriated to North Korea. The Paradise on Earth that Chongryon propagated so extensively was a place without freedom, and Lee spent her whole life eyeing an opportunity to escape North Korea. After successfully defecting from North Korea, Lee is currently working to publicize the reality of Korean-Japanese who are living in North Korea as the chairman of the Association of Families of North Korean Refugees. 


Korean-Japanese defect from North Korea 


In North Korea, you had to live in absolute silence. Let me share a story about my friend “A.” who defected from North Korea and currently lives in South Korea. “A” was a principled socialist who came to North Korea as an officer of Chongryon. Hearing he could study as much as he wanted and could have the opportunity to study abroad in the Soviet Union, he decided to come to North Korea. Surely, however, that did not happen. His dream was completely squashed, and he had to work at a blast furnace all his life. Nevertheless, when you first go to North Korea, they propagate that they brought a Korean-Japanese who was despised, ostracized, and despised in a capitalist society into the arms of his homeland.” The reality is this ironic. 


As a result of this dire reality, many Korean-Japanese residents in North Korea, especially young people, wanted to defect. This really catalyzed North Korean defection, which began in the 1960s. Although they mostly failed, the defection continued. That precisely exemplifies how far the reality in North Korea was from the world the repatriates wanted. Since the Korean-Japanese repatriates in North Korea kept defecting, it was a huge headache to the North Korean government. At first, the government was more tolerant to portray the central party as the “forgiving motherly figure.” When people were caught defecting, they were educated and indoctrinated instead of being sent to political prison camps. This education was studying for six months at a communist university. The education was about the party’s policies. It was continuously instilled that capitalism is a corrupt and rotten system compared to socialism. In 1967, however, the government stopped being tolerant. Alongside the rise of massive purges in North Korea, the society became more violent. From then on, the Korean-Japanese repatriates in North Korea were taken away without mercy. Many of our friends, including those who were caught trying to defect to North Korea and those who were caught saying something wrong, were also taken away. There were so many of them who were taken away in their teens. And it isn’t even that difficult to “say something wrong.” If someone asks you what Japan is like after you’ve had a few drinks, and you respond with “People have freedom in Japan. It’s hard here,” you are taken away on charges of treason.


An uneasy mind


Korean-Japanese in North Korea created a repatriates community and depended on each other. So, whenever someone is taken away, the news spreads rapidly. When someone says there was a man in black clothes who came and took someone away last night, people start being more careful. There isn’t anything like a trial here. There aren’t any judges or lawyers or anything like that, and when the security agent just writes up a document and submits it, that’s it. Then someone’s gone without a trace. You only hear by word-of-mouth that someone has been taken away, and that’s the only way to know. “How many years did he get?” There aren’t any questions like these. “Where was he taken to?” If you ask questions like these, you will be treated as equally guilty and possibly penalized, so you can’t easily ask. When I came to South Korea and shared these stories, people said that was how it was like before the ’80s over here. Then I say this: even then you could throw stones and protest in South Korea. I don’t think it even comes close to North Korea — even comparing the situations in South Korea to North Korea is absurd. In North Korea, you can’t even speak. As soon as you say even “Ah,” you are taken away covertly. Even the fact that you know where people go when they are taken away in South Korea is shocking to me. In North Korea, no one has come out of a political prison camp. All residents in North Korea understand and believe that: the political prison camp is a place you can’t come out if you go in, a place you won’t even know where someone goes when they go in, a place you can’t even know if someone is alive or dead. That’s why if you don’t want to be a political prisoner, you need to control even your emotions. There was a period of time of remembrance after Kim Il-Sung died. All North Korean residents, including me, participated, but apparently someone put on red lipstick. Security officers found it reprehensible that she was joyfully putting on lipstick when the great majestic leader passed away, and then they took her away. The country even monitors emotions such as these. It’s really scary. 


North Korea has been monitoring and cracking down on all Korean-Japanese repatriates. No matter how good and loyal you are, whether you worked as an officer of Chongryon or a businessman who received substantial support and resources from Japanese relatives, all were subject to oppression. If you slip up even slightly or get on an officer’s nerve, you were arrested as a spy. In the town I lived in, there were around 100 Korean-Japanese repatriates, and about 15 of them were taken away. Out of the 15 taken away, around 7 of them were caught trying to defect, 3-4 of them were taken away after saying the wrong thing. Around 2 of them were taken away for being a spy, and one person, whom the officers claimed to be an anti-communist distributing leaflets, was taken away. In this way, around 15% of our community’s Korean-Japanese expatriates were taken away without a sound, and we still don’t know to this day if they are alive or not. Except for the very short time in the early days, people were continuously taken away. Then, with the “Arduous March,” enforced disappearances decreased marginally. It wasn’t that people were given freedom; but rather, with the hardships from the Arduous March, North Korea’s surveillance waned. 


An Eye of A Repatriate Who Lives in Constant Fear of Terror and Monitoring