Fighting N. Korean ‘genocide’
The cases of Americans who have crossed the Tumen or Yalu Rivers into North Korea with unwelcome pleas for peace or human rights or relief from suffering bear one theme in common. Those who are crazy enough to go into the North become suicidal.
Robert Park, the Korean-American Christian activist from Tucson, Ariz., has often been reported as threatening suicide since the North Koreans freed him on Feb. 6, 2010. That was 43 days after he walked across the ice on the Tumen River on Christmas Day 2009 bearing a letter urging Kim Jong-il to step down and, by the way, release all prisoners from North Korean gulags before doing so.
Nobody other than Park knows exactly what the North Koreans did to get him to say as he arrived in Beijing that the bad stuff he’d been saying about the North was all ``propaganda” that turned out not to be true. Since then, after spells in a mental hospital, Park has been waging a campaign against North Korea’s ``genocide” of its people while threatening time and again to take his own life.
He did so again, in conversations over the telephone with me, after a news report that he’d said he’d been subjected to body blows by screaming North Korean women that had deprived him of his ``manhood.” That news turned out to have been second-hand from a conversation more than a month before the report appeared, but Park still isn’t saying what happened to him.
The record shows, though, that North Korean interrogators seem to have a finely tuned way to evoke suicidal tendencies among those who’ve tried to defy them by entering their territory with unwanted messages. One of them, Evan Hunziger, accused of espionage and held for three months in 1996 after swimming across the Yalu into the North, took his own life several weeks after Bill Richardson, then a U.S. congressman, soon to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and later governor of New Mexico, flew to Pyongyang to get him.
Hunziger had reportedly been suicidal while in Pyongyang but later said he was moved from a prison to a hotel and given three meals a day _ no small privilege considering that North Korea at the time was in the midst of a famine that killed as many as two million people. Hunziger, whose mother was Korean, insisted he was really a missionary and the purpose of his journey was to bring ``peace,” but he wound up an alcoholic and drug addict and shot himself in the head in a cheap district of Tacoma, Wash.
Then there was the case of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who followed Robert Park across the border in January 2010. Sentenced to eight years for ``illegal entry,” he was moved to a mental hospital after attempting suicide, according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The KCNA attributed Gomes’ desire to end it all to ``a strong guilty conscience, disappointment and despair that the U.S. government has not taken any measure for his freedom.” It took a visit to Pyongyang by Jimmy Carter in August 2010 to bring him home.
The North Koreans played these cases for all the propaganda value they were worth, spurning the charges of their own inhumanity so harshly as to compel all three to believe at some stage their lives were not worth living. The success of the interrogators in accomplishing this mission has a mirror image in the expressions of mass grief over the passing of Kim Jong-il and the adulation bestowed upon his totally unproven youngest son and heir, Kim Jong-un.
But what do the North Koreans do to accomplish this goal? It would help a lot if Robert Park would tell us more about his experience. He was to have appeared at a press conference in Seoul staged by a group called SaveMyFriend, dedicated to persuading China not to return a few dozen North Korean defectors to North Korea. SaveMyFriend’s, website www.SaverMyFriend.org, has been blaring out its simple message in demonstrations across the street from the Chinese Embassy.
At one protest I attended this week outside the Chinese Embassy, Cha In-pyo, star of the film ``Crossing,” a tragic tale of North Korean defectors, warned, ``If they are forcibly sent back, it is almost certain they will face death.” And if they are not executed, the record shows they will be consigned to a vast prison system from which they will eventually die from torture, hunger, disease, overwork or execution for some other offense.
That reality should be enough for China to change its inhumane policy. Why not send North Korean defectors, more accurately refugees from the hardships of life in a society plagued by famine and illness, on to South Korea or some other country? The Chinese choose to give priority to their tight bond with North Korea, a de facto protectorate that counts on China for food and oil plus diplomatic and military support.
The lesson of the three crazy Americans, though, is clear. Park, Hunziger and Gomes share the fates of all those who defy the North Korean system whether by fleeing the North or entering it in the vain mission of influencing change. That’s all the more reason for protesters to keep up the pressure on China to provide safe harbor or passage for defector/refugees and for Robert Park to keep on living for his campaign against ``genocide.”
Columnist Donald Kirk, www.donaldkirk.com, is author of ``Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine.” His email address is email@example.com.