‘Save my wife and child’ pleads des­per­ate North Korean de­fec­tor

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - WORLDWIDE - Ni­cola Smith in Taipei

A NORTH Korean de­fec­tor has made a heart­felt plea for in­ter­na­tional help to save his wife and young child from ex­e­cu­tion af­ter they were caught try­ing to flee the pariah state into China.

In an emo­tional in­ter­view with re­porters, Tae­won Lee (29) said he last heard from his wife and four-year-old son — whose iden­ti­ties he wanted to pro­tect — on Novem­ber 4, in a snatched phone con­ver­sa­tion when she told him they had been ar­rested in China.

“I al­most fainted. I col­lapsed on the floor for hours,” he said, speak­ing from the South Korean cap­i­tal, Seoul. Since then he has pleaded with the South’s for­eign min­istry for help, but their diplo­matic efforts to lo­cate his fam­ily have yielded few re­sults.

The con­se­quences of de­por­ta­tion would be dire.

“They will def­i­nitely be sent to a prison camp. In the worst case, they will be killed,” said Mr Lee. “Even if they for­give my son, his back­ground will be that his fa­ther went to South Korea, his mother was in a prison camp or ex­e­cuted. He will have no fam­ily, maybe he will be­come a street child.”

News of the young fam­ily’s plight comes just days af­ter a blis­ter­ing speech by US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to South Korea’s par­lia­ment, where he de­nounced the North as a “hell that no per­son de­serves”, whose cit­i­zens face “tor­ture, star­va­tion, rape and mur­der” on a constant ba­sis.

But de­spite build­ing ev­i­dence of hu­man rights atroc­i­ties, there has been a re­ported surge in de­por­ta­tions back to the North from China, the most com­mon es­cape route for de­fec­tors.

Mr Lee fled to South Korea two years ago, choos­ing to make the ini­tial jour­ney alone as it was so dan­ger­ous. When he safely reached Seoul, he saved the money for his wife and son to join him, but she was too ter­ri­fied to leave be­cause of the penal­ties for be­ing caught.

Ha­rass­ment from se­cu­rity agen­cies forced her to take the risk of cross­ing into China’s Liaon­ing prov­ince on Oc­to­ber 17. How­ever Chi­nese po­lice ar­rested them in Shenyang on Novem­ber 4.

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