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Freedom From Fear: Not In North Korea

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Angst. Fear. Hunger. That’s what millions of North Koreans feel every day as they live under a regime where there is high risk of persecution and little to no freedom.

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My name is Gwihan Son Chuk which means ‘precious’ in Korean. After my life in North Korea, I feel that every single one of the North Koreans living under those abhorrent conditions life is precious. I find it ironic that North Korea calls itself a Democratic People’s Republic, when it’s people are the ones that suffer the most. We do not have basic rights. We cannot speak about anything other than how great our leaders are, we do not have books on adventures, romance, fiction; the only knowledge we get is about the struggles of North Korea against USA. We cannot grow our hair in more than twelve styles, and women cannot keep their hair long after they are married as it sends out the wrong ‘message’ . We are not allowed to watch films or listen to music, other than those praising the nation’s great leaders. I was born in the small village of Paegam-gun, one of the poorest villages in North Korea. We did not have water, we got only one meal a day. On some days we had to eat rats, grass, soil and tree barks. childhood was the worst.

In school we are taught that the North Korean dictator was a god, and could hear our thoughts. If we even dared to think against him, he would know and would punish us. At the age of eight, I witnessed my uncle being publicly executed for possessing and watching South Korean adventure and pornographic films. That day, they mercilessly beat my father as they felt that my uncle would have shown it to him as well. My village was constantly oppressed by the military. Being close to the border between North Korea and China, there would always be military officials in the village. They were plunderers. They raped the woman and girls in the village and beat the men. Women are constantly oppressed in North Korea. According to the regime, women are only there for two reasons, to cook food for the family and to give pleasure to the men who work hard. They targeted my mother. Once she was raped by three men, and my father could not do anything as they would kill him if he did.

I can still hear her screams in my mind, and remember my father sitting in the corner of the room, crying. My father was our only source of income, who worked as a farmer. In North Korea, only men can work and they can only have two jobs. They have to be government officials or farmers. Women have to stay at home as they are considered ‘two weak’ to do any other form of work.

Our village had a constant draught. Whatever crops we could grow, the government would come and take them all, for little to no money at all. My father used to hide some food and money in a small pit in the ground, near the small land he worked in. In 1994, my some officials and policemen came to my home, and started to beat my father with batons metal rods. They whipped him with their belts, and did not stop- even when he was bleeding and bruised all over. They then dragged his motionless body out of our house, after which I never saw him again. My mother wept and screamed for him, but the men did not stop. They offered us no explanation, and I never saw my father again. I was thirteen at the time, and With my father gone, my mother decided that it was time to leave the country, even if we meant being executed if we were caught. In November 1994 my mother, sister and I left our village in the middle of the night, in search for freedom, for a new life. Even after we escaped the country, we were not free. We were constantly in hiding as we feared being deported to North Korea. We were ready to kill ourselves to avoid going back. My sister was raped by a Chinese government official, in return he promised not to report us to government authorities who would deport us. We lived in China for three years, where my mother did odds and ends of jobs. My mother finally earned enough money and we paid human traffickers to take us to Russia, where my family lives today.

I have a lovely husband and a beautiful daughter. Yes, I am also homosexual. Being homosexual is considered a ‘disease’ or a ‘disorder’ and people found to be so are punished by sending them to training camps. But most of the people live in such consternation that they do not have freedom to even think about their sexuality or express it.

03 December 2019

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