Interviewed June 2010
Park Sang Hak is the chairman of Fighters for a Free North Korea, which uses balloons to send leaflets, DVDs, transistor radios and USB flash drives from South Korea into North Korea. Because the North Korean government tightly controls information within the country, the materials deliver valuable information about the outside world and serve to undermine the propaganda the North Korean government uses to keep itself in power. Park is the son of a former North Korean spy who defected to South Korea with his family at his father’s urging. Following the family’s defection, an uncle in North Korea was beaten to death in retaliation. Park met with President Bush in September 2008.
North Korea (the Democratic Republic of Korea) is a country of 23 million people ruled by Communist dictator Kim Jong-Il. Kim’s deceased predecessor and father, Kim Il-Sung, retains the title of “Eternal President.” The war initiated by Kim Il-Sung in 1950 against South Korea ended in a cease-fire rather than a peace treaty, and the border between the two Koreas remains heavily militarized.
As recently as 2010 North Korea sank a Korean naval vessel, killing 46 sailors, and attacked an island belonging to South Korea, killing four people. The government of North Korea has developed and tested nuclear weapons in contravention of several agreements. It also engages in widespread and systematic human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, torture, forced abortion, arbitrary detention, and denial of the rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion. North Korea’s government pervasively regulates all aspects of the lives of its citizens, each of whom is categorized as “core,” “wavering,” or “hostile,” according to the history of his or her family’s relationship with the regime. Access to housing, employment, education, and other social and economic goods depend heavily on these security classifications. The government determines where each citizen will live, and travel within the country is strictly limited. Refugees who have escaped to China have frequently been forcibly returned to North Korea where they are imprisoned, subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and sometimes executed. The government operates a network of forced labor camps for political prisoners. The largest such camp is estimated to be 31 miles long by 26 miles wide and to hold 50,000 prisoners. While persons convicted of ordinary crimes are required to serve fixed sentences, those convicted of political crimes are confined indefinitely. According to defectors and refugees, political offenders are often denied food, clothing, and medical care and are not expected to survive their time in prison.