Mis­ery is their lot

> Best­selling au­thor and ac­tivist Lee Hyeon­seo warns of bleak choices fac­ing North Korean women who man­aged to flee their coun­try

The Sun (Malaysia) - - FEATURE -

says, usu­ally sold to men in the coun­try­side. Fam­i­lies are will­ing to pay hun­dreds of dol­lars for brides for oth­er­wise in­el­i­gi­ble bach­e­lors. This, too, can end in ab­ject mis­ery.

“Some of these traf­ficked North Korean women com­mit sui­cide, while oth­ers hold onto a sliver of hope that they will even­tu­ally es­cape. Al­most none of them suc­ceed,” Lee says.

Her own story is one of re­mark­able sur­vival against the odds.

From pub­lic ex­e­cu­tions and corpses ly­ing on the streets to fam­ily gath­er­ings and play­ing with friends, Lee’s mem­o­ries of her child­hood are a patch­work of the or­di­nary and the hor­ri­fy­ing – and yet, she says, it was all nor­mal in North Korea.

“The sad truth for most North Kore­ans is that they are brain­washed to think that their com­plete lack of free­dom and hu­man rights is nor­mal,” she says.

For her, the coil of in­doc­tri­na­tion un­rav­elled grad­u­ally. She grew up on the bor­der – the neon lights of China vis­i­ble just across the Yalu River.

“My coun­try was com­pletely dark, even though we were sup­pos­edly su­pe­rior,” she ex­plains. “Liv­ing so close to China also al­lowed me to se­cretly watch Chi­nese TV chan­nels, which opened my eyes to a whole new world.”

A na­tion­wide famine, known as the ‘Ar­du­ous March’, also forced her to re­con­sider the rhetoric of the regime.

“In my home­town of Hye­san, I could see dead bod­ies on the streets. The smell of de­com­pos­ing flesh made me feel sick and gave me goose­bumps,” she re­calls. It is es­ti­mated hun­dreds of thou­sands died.

Lee was just 17 when she il­le­gally crossed the river into China, plan­ning on just a short visit. In­stead, she ended up on a decade-long odyssey, dur­ing which she as­sumed mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties, evaded state crack­downs on North Kore­ans, and en­dured be­tray­als and beat­ings.

In 2008, she ar­rived in Seoul and was granted asy­lum, be­fore go­ing on to guide her fam­ily from North Korea to free­dom too. She is now mar­ried to an Amer­i­can, whom she met in the city.

Now, she is de­ter­mined to use her ex­pe­ri­ences to bring about change.

She says: “It’s es­sen­tial that the peo­ple who have been op­pressed speak out. It’s the most ef­fec­tive way to com­pel the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to help.” – AFP

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