Another North Korean defector says he’s stuck in South Korea, wants to go home

Posted on : 2017-06-18 11:46 KST Modified on : 2017-06-18 11:46 KST
Defector Kwon Chol-nam says he was tricked by a broker, then accused of espionage in the South
Kwon Cheol-nam
Kwon Cheol-nam

Another North Korean defector has come forward claiming he was tricked into coming South by a defection broker and demanding to be sent back. It’s the second case of a defector identifying themselves by name as demanding repatriation, after Kim Ryon-hui, 48.

The group Christian Ministers for Peace Action held a press conference in front of the UN North Korean human rights office in Seoul’s Jongno district on the morning of June 15 to issue a “declaration of conscience” on behalf of defector Kwon Chol-nam, 44, and demand his return to North Korea.

A statement requesting the release of North Koreans arrested after attempting to flee to the South and the immediate repatriation of all defectors wishing to return home, including Kwon, was also presented to the UN North Korean human rights office.

Kwon crossed the North Korean border in Aug. 2014 and arrived in South Korea the following November. While in North Korea, he had lived with his wife and son, making a living selling medicinal herbs.

“A broker I met in China told me, ‘South Korea is the greatest place to live in the world. They give you a house and a job,’” Kwon recalled.

“I fell for it and came to South Korea.”

The broker also took the equivalent of 27 million won (US$23,900) in cash from Kwon, convincing him that he could not enter South Korea with the money. After settling in Ulsan, Kwon struggled to make ends meet.

“I did physical labor at a greenhouse for 100,000 won (US$88.50) a day, but I was treated with contempt because I was a defector, and I didn’t get my full pay,” he said.

Kwon claimed that in June 2016 he had been “joking with another defector friend, ‘Tell them I’m a spy and they give you a little of money,’ and my friend actually reported it to the police and I was arrested on espionage charges.” At the time, Kwon happened to have had a passport issued to return to North Korea by way of a third country due to his struggles with life in the South.

“I was kept imprisoned for 20 days, and they tried to coerce me into confessing to espionage. I’m not a spy, so I kept denying it,” he recalled. “The investigators couldn’t make find any evidence, so I was indicted for attempted infiltration and flight [according to the National Security Law].”

Kwon was given a one-year prison sentence suspended for two years by the court.

“I’m the youngest in my family, and I heard that my father suffered because of my disappearance before passing away last year,” Kwon said at the press conference to explain his reasons for wanting to return.

“I want to be able to pour out a glass before my father’s funeral portrait. I’ve also heard from the security investigation team officers that there are quite a few North Korean defectors in prison because they tried to leave South Korea to go back North,” he added.

Members of an organization of 35 civic groups called the Countermeasures Council to Resolve Allegations of the Orchestrated Defection of North Korean Overseas Restaurant Employees held a press conference on June 14 to demand the repatriation of North Korean defector Kim Ryon-hui, who they claimed was being “essentially forcibly detained.”

By Park Su-ji, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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