North Korea says detainee died of hepatitis
By Kim Young-jin
North Korea has announced that Shin Sook-ja, a 70-year-old South Korean woman stranded in the Stalinist state for over two decades, has died and that her two daughters renounced their father who had escaped back to the South.
In a response letter to the United Nations, Ri Jang-gon, the North’s deputy ambassador to the U.N. headquarters in Geneva, said Shin “died of the hepatitis she suffered since the 1980s” before arriving in the North. It referred to Shin as the “ex-wife” of Oh Kil-nam, who has been fighting in Seoul for her release.
The daughters “do not regard Oh as their father since he abandoned his family and drove their mother to death.” The letter, dated April 27, was made available by the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK).
The letter was in response to an inquiry by the U.N. working group on arbitrary detention under the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Though difficult to confirm the validity of the North’s statement, the news dampened efforts by Oh and rights activists who have been fighting for their release.
The daughters “strongly refused to deal with Oh” and asked not to be bothered over the matter, it said.
In a press conference, Oh said he did not believe the North.
“They have lied about it in the past,” he said citing previous cases of Japanese nationals detained by Pyongyang.
The ICNK said more specific dates were needed to clear doubt and that it would urge the U.N. to establish a body to officially inquire about detainees in the North.
Oh, then a left-leaning economist, took the family to the North in 1985 after being told by authorities his wife could receive free hepatitis treatment there. But Oh says the North forced him and his wife to create propaganda for the regime.
He escaped when Pyongyang dispatched him to Germany to recruit more South Koreans.
Pyongyang is believed to have abducted 3,835 South Korean citizens, mostly fishermen, since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War with 500 thought to remain there.
The South Korean government has said it would petition the United Nations to help repatriate the family and establish a task force to handle abductions by Pyongyang.
North Korea is considered one of the world’s worst human rights violators, operating a sprawling political prisoner system and blocking the flow of outside information to maintain an iron-fisted rule over its people.