Activist Still Determined to Bring Change to N.Korea

      November 08, 2010 07:40

      An evangelical activist who was tortured in North Korea after illegally crossing into the country says his actions were "necessary" to bring democracy to the North. Robert Park told the Chosun Ilbo in Seoul last Thursday that he entered North Korea knowing that he could die. "I endured horrors there, but I believe what I did was necessary for democracy and human rights in North Korea," he said."

      Robert Park

      The 29-year-old Korean American added, "Rather than talking about the pain I had to endure, I would like to speak more about the need for more people to get involved in bringing change to North Korea."

      On Christmas Day last year, Park crossed into North Korea armed with a Bible and a letter for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. He was imprisoned and released on Feb. 5 and underwent nine months of psychiatric treatment in Los Angeles and Tucson, Arizona to deal with the after-effects of torture. He came to Seoul last month.

      "I crossed the frozen Duman (or Tumen) River and headed toward Hoeryong when North Korean soldiers shone their flashlights at me," Park recalled. "I shouted at them, 'the people of South Korea and the U.S. love you!' Then I had to endure such horrible abuses that I don't want to recall them." He heard his prison guards say they were sending him to the notorious Yodok concentration camp and even threaten to execute him.

      "I struggled with suicide a great deal since I left North Korea... I almost committed suicide. But I had treatment to forget about the disgusting things that happened to me, which made me want to kill myself," Park said. "As a result of what happened to me in North Korea, I've thrown away any kind of personal desire. I will never, you know, be able to have a marriage or any kind of relationship."

      He said the interrogators, prison guards and police he met in North Korea "have no idea of right or wrong and were inhuman." Park was taken to Hoeryong, Chongjin and eventually to Pyongyang but said he cannot recall exactly where he stayed and for how long.

      Park said he did not decide to go to North Korea on a whim, but planned the visit for a long time. He crossed the border knowing he could die but wanted to raise the human rights issue to pressure the regime.

      Park had been an evangelical missionary in Mexican slums but became interested in North Korea when he heard from a colleague in 2005 that the situation was far worse there. Since then, he worked with several groups working for human rights in North Korea. "Changes in North Korea were slow to come even though I took part in many activities with church or activist groups," Park said. "Winter was coming, but North Korean children were dying. I crossed over into North Korea believing I had to do something more."

      He does not plan to return to the U.S. for some time. He said he plans to hold demonstrations and engage in other activities in South Korea. "The North Korean regime can be pressured only through large-scale concerted efforts," he said.

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