As a former North Korean military officer marked for execution, Kim Yong-Hwa says he knows all too well the tribulations facing the thousands of defectors on the run for their lives from the repressive Kim regime of North Korea.
The founder of the North Korean Refugees Human Rights Association, now in his mid-60s, spent over nine years imprisoned in three different countries during his decade-plus journey to true freedom.
The journey that began with the intention of committing suicide after being accused of disloyalty to an authoritarian regime that he loved so much took a much different route than Kim initially anticipated.
Instead of going to China and shooting himself in a spot where he could only hope his body would not be found, Kim told The Christian Post that he ultimately discovered the truth that the Kim regime kept hidden from North Koreans. From that point, Kim was inspired to live on to tell his story.
Through his journey, Kim discovered the Gospel of Jesus Christ and today runs a South Korean-based ministry that helps other North Korean defectors facing a similar situation in China find their way to safety.
Kim is one of over 32,000 North Korean defectors who has successfully made the treacherous journey through China and other Asian nations to South Korea since the end of the Korean war in 1953.
But there are an estimated 230,000 North Korean defectors wandering around China who are searching for safety and still at risk of being arrested and repatriated to North Korea, where they could face execution or life in labor camps for the crime of defection.
The road to South Korea, where many North Korean defectors ultimately desire to seek refuge, is not easy.
“Let there be no such tragedy as I experienced [for] anyone else,” Kim told CP while he was in Washington, D.C., for last week’s North Korea Freedom Week.
Accused of disloyalty
In a 40-minute sit-down interview through a translator, Kim admitted that at one point in his life, his love for North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il-Sung, and the communist regime was above and beyond his love for God.
“I thought that If Kim Il-Sung lives no more, I would probably die,” he explained. “I would even die for him. That would be happiness and joy. When there is no Jesus in that nation officially, then he was higher than Jesus back then to me.”
Kim worked until 1981 as a member of the Korean People’s Army in charge of managing vehicles. But he switched in 1981 to become a member of a state security service at the Railway Safety Bureau.
At that job, Kim was in charge of the second military train, which operated under Kim Il-Sung’s family and the Worker’s Party.
But thanks to an aging facility, a military train coming from Russia to North Korea tipped over in July 1988.
Because of the incident, the North Korean regime labeled Kim as “disloyal.”
“Disloyalty had nothing to do with the train accident,” Kim asserted nearly 31 years later. “Giving me blame, I was to be executed.”
Kim was tipped off by a friend about his pending execution. Kim felt betrayed and decided the best thing for him to do is go to China and kill himself in order to protect his family.
“With the decision of the North Korean regime, there is no way you can avoid that once the decision has been made,” Kim explained. “Even if you escape, that is also considered being a traitor. Also, committing suicide is also being disloyal (which could result in the persecution of family members). So I really wanted to go to a place where no one could see me because I wanted to shoot myself.”
Kim said that in late July 1988, he crossed over the Amnok River with a friend into China. But instead of following through with the plan to kill himself, Kim said that he heard a South Korean radio broadcast that changed the course of his life entirely.
He overheard a broadcast that Korean-Chinese man was listening to. It was a broadcast in which the high-profile defection case of North Korean Man-chul Kim’s family to South Korea was discussed.
As a state security officer, Kim had access to a special periodical for security officials. The newspaper claimed before Kim defected that the boat that Man-chul Kim and his family escaped on had been shot and sunk by the North Korean military.
“That was on the North Korean news,” he recalled. “So I knew because of that news I read, Man-chul Kim was dead. But because he appears on that broadcast, it is either deception or lies by the South Korean or the North Korean. I was a bit confused.”
Kim said he listened to that broadcast in its entirety and realized that he had been “deceived” by the North Korean regime.
“So, therefore, I wanted to go to Korea and let the truth be known that was in my heart,” he stated.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith