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"I Was a Broker" (6)
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2016-01-26 10:48:28
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"I Was a Broker" (6)

 

Ryu Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000

 

 

At the prison, the interrogation was far more thorough and harsh than the first few times. They were persistent in their questions and doubted many of my answers. They repeated their questions, including information that they had previously written down. They were especially interested in how I came to know Eun-Sim and who introduced her to me. I replied that I was in Helong because I had some business around there, where I met a woman who asked me to help a few defectors after learning I was a South Korean. She told me that she pitied these young defectors and gave me Eun-Sim’s contact number. I didn’t know who she was, nor did I wish to know. The only thing I knew about this woman is that she wanted to help Eun-Sim. I didn’t know her phone number, or her name. I met her with Eun-Sim in YeonGil. They didn’t seem to believe me and after a few days, they focused their interrogation on Eun-Sim’s guardian. The interrogation lasted from early morning till almost 8 pm, and the guards escorted me to my cell as if they had been waiting for me. 

 

When I returned to my cell, the cellmates questioned me in Chinese that I couldn’t understand. I think they were asking how the investigation went. The only person who could have translated their questions for me was Young-Ho Kong, who was nowhere to be seen. I asked the prisoners where he went and they responded that today was the court date, and that he had yet to return from court. Young-Ho Kong had been paying 1000 yuan to Han-Chinese taxi drivers to drive refugees to Mongolia. At first it was only one taxi driver that was caught, and one became nine. There were about 11 defectors, including South Korean Mi-Suk Jang, that were caught in Changchun Station by Yiryeonhaoteo Border patrol, all of them using Young-Ho Kong’s services. He returned close to curfew. He seemed to know that he was facing several years in prison. He was seemed resentful that he was punished after all the good that he had done for Korea. He also seemed unable to sleep. 

 

Young-Ho Kong had been helping defectors with other South Koreans by accepting 4,000,000 to 4,500,000 Won per person. They would help the North Korean refugees cross the border to Mongolia from China. They were betrayed by their own call history, and were arrested by Yiryeonhaoteo border police in their own homes. At the time of the arrest, Young-Ho Kong’s wife had given birth only 7 days prior. He was arrested on March 16th 2007, and in order to prove his innocence, he followed orders of the border police and lured Jan Mi-Suk, a defector who became a South Korean citizen. She had been helping six defectors make their three country escape from North Korea to Mongolia through China, and Young-Ho Kong helped the border police in arresting them. Young-Ho Kong’s sentence was reduced to seven years and ten months by the high court after cooperating with the Mi-Suk Jang’s arrest. His older brother, Kwang-Ho Kong was sentenced to 11 years and 3 months. 

 

I lay awake in bed and prayed silently to the Lord. I prayed for our redemption and salvation. It seemed to me that humans instinctively turned to god in times of hardship. The next day, Ing-Ji Su with a translator, an officer, and a record keeper, called me out of my cell. I slowly walked toward the exit as Ing-Ji Su asked me if I had eaten. I replied that I had no desire to do so. Su’s expression seemed bored as he pulled me to stand against the wall and made me hold a plaque with my name written in Chinese. After they took my mugshot, they took me back to the room they had questioned me in earlier. As I sat on the desk, the translator stood in front of me, holding what appeared to be documents, and asked me in poor Korean, “Do you know Yun-Chan.” I had to take a moment and wonder who she was talking about. Before I could respond to her, she asked me again, “Do you know Hwa-Ja?” I responded that I didn’t know either of them. 

 

I knew Kim Yun-Chan personally, and I knew a man in Yeongil that knew Hwa-Ja, but I couldn’t mention him here. I repeated calmly that I didn’t know either of them.  I told them to look up the name Hwa-Ja in my phonebook if they didn’t believe me.  I glimpsed a document on the table that had ‘Kim Hwa-Ja, Birthdate: September 26th, 1966, unemployed, middle school dropout, address: Jilin YeonGil written in Chinese. The rest of the document was covered up by other documents. I suddenly realized that the large woman I had met earlier must have been Hwa-Ja. Kim Yun-Chan had told me sometime ago that a woman named Hwa-Ja lived in YeonGil but I made no effort to learn her full name or her contact number. The translator claimed in an annoyed voice that I knew Kim Yun-Chan and Hwa-Ja. I replied again that I honestly did not know them. Su Ing-Ji, who was sitting sideways on a chair, asked me who I had seen on my way to Inner Mongolia. I told him that I had met an overweight Chinese-Korean woman accompanied by two North Korean defectors on the train. He asked me how I knew the woman was Chinese-Korean and how I knew that the two people were defectors. I told him that I had been living in Yianbian for a long time and that I could identify them from experience. This time Su Ing-Ji asked me why I came to Yiryeonhaoteo in December of last year (2006). I replied that I wanted to see if I could help defectors come to South Korea in the same route I took when I left South Korea in 2000.

 

At this point, I began to understand that the overweight woman reported us in great detail. She worked together with Kim Yun-Chan. When I lived in Pohang, Kim Yun-Chan lived in the same neighborhood, and after I moved to Gyeonggi-do, I had completely forgotten about his existence. Around the end of April in 2006, Kim Yun-Chan called me for the first time in a while. We met up at our house. At the time, Kim Yun-Chan agreed to help 3 North Korean defectors after receiving 2,000,000 Won. He wanted me to help him but I declined him firmly since I refused to accept money from defectors. In all honesty, I had never asked for money or accepted any form of payment from North Korean refugees. After September 2006, I had told the defectors that made it to South Korea that, “I have faced some hardships lately and had to pay a huge fine. I am facing a lot of economic hardship” I asked them to maybe pay about 10-30 % of what other refugees pay in order to get to South Korea. I asked them to pay me out of the goodness of their heart. Still, no one ever paid me. Kim Yun-Chan asked me came to my house several times, asking me to work with him and asking me to teach him the escape routes. I taught him the routes in detail and also taught him how to choose the best dates for crossing borders. We went to Yiryeon together in the fall and I pointed out all the places he would need to know including escape routes to keep in mind in risky circumstances. At the time, Yun-Chan followed the border-crossing route that I usually took and told me that he felt like he was entering the lion’s den. In early December, I took Jin-Ok’s family in Wangqing to Harbin and returned alone to YeonGil where I met up with several defectors that were ready to leave for Yiryeonhaoteo. Yun-Chan left with two women while I left with three refugees and I met up with them in Inner Mongolia Central Line Train. The two women that left with Yun-Chan did not say a word and seemed to be distracted with their thoughts. 

 

Our party was seated farther away from them but we were lively and enjoyed the journey with a bright disposition. We had plenty of food so I brought some food and drinks to Yun-Chan’s party. Once, when we were at the train station in Hop Psy, buying train tickets for my party, one of the women travelling with Yun-Chan came up to me and asked me to buy tickets for them as well. She seemed to be in her mid-30s (now living in Songpa-gu Geoyeo-dong). I appreciated how forward and daring she was and I bought their tickets for them as well. Our party was prepared for the harshest of the weather, but the other two were poorly prepared with minimal clothing without enough towels. As a result, I had given them my hat and my gloves. Yun-Chan asked me to take care of his party for him but when I asked my companions about it, they told me that they preferred not to add extra members to our party. My party left smoothly according to schedule, and they called me from the train station around 12:30 am, confirming that they had safely arrived. Myung-Il and his companion headed for the States while Yun Myung-Wha headed for South Korea. That day was Christmas Day 2006, and I met Yun-Chan with an overweight woman.