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Campaign seeks to save SK woman from NK prison camp

Posted August. 12, 2011 17:59,   


"She shouldn`t die in North Korea. She should step on the soil of her hometown at least before she dies.”

Four friends of Shin Suk-ja, a South Korean woman being held at an infamous North Korean concentration camp, said this at an event on North Korean human rights Thursday, adding, “We hope she`s still alive.” The event was held at the waiting room of Tongyeong Ferry Terminal in South Gyeongsang Province and promoted a petition drive to rescue Shin and her daughters.

Shin, 69, was born in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, and graduated from Tongyeong Elementary School and Tongyeong Girls’ Middle School. Fate took her to North Korea, and confirming whether she is dead or alive is deemed incredibly difficult.

Hosted by the Tongyeong branch of the National Unification Advisory Council, the event feature the Rev. Bang Su-yeol, who initiated the drive, and members of Tongyeong Hyundai Church.

"I couldn`t sleep after I learned that Suk-ja, the quiet and smart girl, is now in North Korea. Even if she`s dead, her two daughters should be sent back (to the South),” said Kim Sun-ja, Shin`s close friend in middle school, sobbingly. "

Recalling her friend as a pretty girl with a small mole under her eye and a dimple, Kim apparently could hardly believe her friend was in the North, more specifically in a prison camp.

"Though we cannot clearly remember her, she was definitely a small but smart girl,” said Shin`s other friends from the same elementary and middle schools while touching her face on a poster.

After graduating from middle school, Shin went to Masan Nursing School in 1958, leaving her friends in Tongyeong behind. In the late 1960s, the Korean government sent her to Germany to work as a nurse.

She met Dr. Oh Gil-nam, who was studying economics in Germany, and married him there in 1975. The couple had two daughters.

Her family life began to fall apart when her husband was caught up in a plot involving North Korea in 1985. A North Korean agent who approached him said Pyongyang would offer him a professorship and top-flight medical care to Shin, who was injured in a car accident.

Spurring Oh to go to the North were Yun Isang, a composer from Tongyeong, and Song Du-yul, a South Korean scholar residing in Germany.

Shin objected, saying, "I can`t trust North Korea.” She failed to talk her husband out of going, however, and moved to the North with him.

Isolated from the outside world, they underwent brainwashing for three months after arriving in the Stalinist country. Oh was then assigned to work as a broadcast agent of the "Voice of National Salvation," a malicious propaganda organ geared toward the South.

A year later, the North Korean leadership ordered him to bring South Korean couples studying in Germany. Shin then told her husband, “We have to pay the price for our wrong decision, but you shouldn`t follow an order that victimizes others and just run away. Our daughters shouldn`t become the daughters of hateful accomplices. If you escape this country, please rescue us but if you fail, believe that we`re dead."

Oh eventually escaped from the North but failed to rescue his family. Shin and their daughters were sent to the notorious Yodok prison camp in 1987.

He lived in Germany in secret but contacted composer Yun, who had a close relationship with Pyongyang back then, to ask for help to bring his family out of the North. Yun delivered to Oh letters from his family twice in 1987 and 1988.

In 1999, the composer brought a cassette tape with the voice of Oh`s wife and daughters and six family photos. Yun then said, "Since you betrayed North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, who was generous to you, your family should be held hostage. You should go back to the North again and be loyal to the regime."

Oh turned himself in to the South Korean Embassy in Berlin in 1992 and came to the South. He appealed to relevant organizations about his family`s plight but got few responses.

Nearly forgotten for two decades, Shin`s story received global attention again thanks to So Shin-hyang, the wife of the Rev. Bang. She learned of Shin`s story at a lecture on North Korean prison camps in a prayer service called the Esther Prayer Movement in 2009.

Sage Korea, a group promoting human rights in North Korea, proposed an exhibition titled, “There Is No Love; Exhibition on North Korean Prison Camps” in Tongyeong. The rescue drive began as the exhibition was held in May and June this year by adding the phrase, “Tongyeong`s daughter is there” to the title.

A lecture on Shin co-hosted by Gyeongnam Forum 21 was also held in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, on July 26.

A petition drive to rescue Shin and her daughters is spreading in Tongyeong and its neighboring areas in South Gyeongsang Province. Bang said he will push for the drive 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.

Twenty-six thousand people have signed the petition, including 16,000 in Tongyeong alone, or 11.4 percent of the city`s population of 140,000. Bang also plans to send a petition to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the South Korean Unification Ministry to rescue Shin and her children and confirm if they are alive or dead.

"Young (South) Koreans remain silent though they witness a massacre, not to mention human rights violations. I hope all people can join the efforts to rescue Shin and her daughters," said the pastor.