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Kim Seong Min was born in 1962. He grew up and received his education in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim is the son of a poet and was trained as a writer. After serving ten years in the military, he worked in one of the regime’s propaganda offices. Troubled by the society in which he lived, Kim escaped to China in 1997. He eventually arrived in Seoul, South Korea in 1999, and ever since has fought for the liberation and democratization of his homeland.

In 2004, Kim established Free North Korea Radio (FNKR) to broadcast messages about freedom to those being oppressed and exploited by the regime in Pyongyang. These tireless efforts have been recognized by several international awards, including the “Prize for Press Freedom” from Reporters Without Borders and the “Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award” from the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. Recently, Kim was elected as a Representative of the Coalition to Promote the Democratization of North Korea, an alliance of North Korean defector organizations based in South Korea.




My name is Kim Seong Min. I was born in North Korea, and I currently live in the Republic of Korea [South Korea].

When I was living in North Korea, I thought that freedom meant being free from the oppression I was living under. This is why I decided to escape the country.

Having lived in South Korea for many years, I feel that that definition of freedom is too simplistic. I now feel that freedom is a combination of human rights and one’s responsibility towards such human rights.

The concept of freedom for North Koreans, South Koreans, and Americans is not all that different. Like I mentioned before, many North Korean defectors think of freedom as being free from the oppression they were under or being free from every inconvenience.

But there are some legal aspects to be considered. One might think of freedom as acting or behaving in any way you want but I feel that freedom also ensures legal and moral responsibilities. I think abiding by these responsibilities is a very important component of the concept of freedom.

On a basic level, freedom is something that is given to every human being. The rights and happiness that people have are also included in the idea of freedom. In that sense, I think that all human beings are equal in that they are given the right to freedom.

This may not be the case for people like me who were born in North Korea. The moment you are born in North Korea, you are deprived of freedom. I actually wrote a poem about it. I think freedom is a fundamental human right, but if you do not preserve it then someone else can take it away. 

North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is a country of 23 million people in northeast Asia, ruled by Communist dictator Kim Jong-Un. His deceased predecessors—father, Kim Jong-Il, and grandfather, Kim Il-Sung – respectively retain the titles of “Eternal President” and “The Great Leader.”

The Korean War began in 1950, when Kim Il-Sung, backed by the Soviet Union and China, attacked South Korea. The conflict ended in a cease-fire rather than a peace treaty, and the border between the two Koreas remains tense and heavily militarized.

Kim Il-Sung employed harsh tactics to consolidate his power and propagated an extreme personality cult that has been continued by his successors. A blend of communist doctrine, state terror, xenophobia and hyper-nationalism has given North Korea its unique ideology. Despite some recent openings, North Korea remains largely isolated from the rest of the world.

With the end of Soviet communism and withdrawal of economic support, North Korea’s economy collapsed in the 1990s. A massive famine, aggravated by the regime’s indifference, killed as many as 2 million people between 1994 and 1998. While conditions have improved, even today, North Korea faces problems of malnutrition and insufficient access to food.

Tensions between North and South Korea remain high. In 2010, North Korea sank a South Korean naval vessel, killing 46 sailors and attacked a South Korean island, killing four civilians. North Korea has developed and tested nuclear weapons in contravention of several international agreements. The country withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 in order to test ballistic missiles and eventually a nuclear device. Multilateral negotiations have so far failed to constrain North Korea’s arms buildup and nuclear program.

North Korea is among the world’s most repressive states, engaging in widespread and systematic human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, torture, forced abortion, arbitrary detention, and denial of the rights of expression, association, assembly, and religion. The 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.

Emigration is prohibited. 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 an estimated 120,000 political prisoners. While persons convicted of ordinary crimes serve fixed sentences, those convicted of political crimes are confined indefinitely. Punishment is extended to three generations – the offender’s parents, siblings, and children are also incarcerated, as a way to pressure North Koreans to conform. Political offenders are often denied food, clothing, and medical care, and many die in prison.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report classifies North Korea as “not free” and as one of nine nations whose lack of political rights and civil liberties are considered the “worst of the worst.”

More on this theme from Kim Seong Min

Kim Seong Min: What is Freedom? Kim Seong Min discusses what freedom means to him.

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