Son Jong-hun has spent 11 years in South Korea, but despairs over the treatment of North Koreans here
BY HYOWON SHIN
SEOUL – A North Korean defector and activist –– who has spent more than a decade in Seoul –– plans to publicly defect back to the North in order to highlight poor treatment of refugees who try to integrate into life in South Korea.
Son Jong-hun knows that harsh punishment awaits, and that what remains of his family will condemn his decision to leave for South Korea. However, 11 years after escaping, Son told NK News in an exclusive interview published today that he feels his options have become limited:
“Compared to the political effect and benefits that could be gained from my re-defection, my life is not very important,” Son said. “I want to send a strong yet refreshing message to South Korea.”
Mr. Son, a former Northern official-turned-activist for defectors, is going through the legal channels to return after despairing over treatment of North Korean refugees. In his decade south of the border, South Koreans have shown no sincere interest in reunification or in properly treating defectors who often risk their lives to resettle, he told NK News.
Son accumulated a variety of experience, working both at a trading company under the Northern government’s umbrella and as a lobbyist for an aborted effort to boost ties between North Korea and Taiwan. Still, he said a lack of a personal network and refusal to recognize his experience here resulted in being able to do little other than work in low-paying activism, and raising awareness of defector human rights.
But Son is angered by more than his own misfortune.
“Why did I come to a land where my human rights are not respected?” he told NK News.
HOW TO RE-DEFECT
“In recent years, the North Korean human rights law that has been in the works from the Korean government has made no progress. Even in the U.S. and Japan North Korean human rights laws have been passed. Korean people and the government seem to turn away from the problems in North Korea. This shows how decadent and lousy the South Korean governmental system is.
“There is no further work that can be done to improve the lives of North Koreans in South Korea,” he said. “South Koreans see reunification as a burden for them: it means more taxation.”
Son said he wants to proceed through legal channels in returning to the North, but the Southern government has detained him since his intent was reported in mid-July. The Ministry of Unification has told him he can only be sent back if the North formally invites him to return, so instead he plans to formally renounce his citizenship through the Ministry of Justice.
If successful, he would then be deported as a stateless person, then able to return to the North.
Son fled to the South after the he was ousted from his job at a government-owned trading company for a seemingly innocuous comment about foreign nations’ military technology during an office party. He then spent three months imprisoned in harsh conditions after efforts to broker closer relations with Taiwan were abandoned.
Although Mr. Son is still no lover of the Northern political system –– his brother was executed after his escape –– he believes his re-entry into the country would focus media attention on them, thus putting them in a difficult spot too.
“The North Korean government would have to prove my wellbeing, thereby showing international society whether this nation is a legitimate one that safeguards human rights for its people, whether it is truly a nation that is fit for people to live in,” he said.
“The North Korean government would feel angry and betrayed over my defection, but my career and knowledge acquired in South Korea would be of benefit to the North Korean government. So I don’t think they would kill me right away.”
Additional reporting by Rob York and James Pearson in Seoul. Headline image: NK News.