Liberty in North Korea

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Liberty in North Korea (LiNK)
LiNK Logo.png
Type NGO, Advocacy Group
Founded 2004
Founder(s) Adrian Hong, Paul Kim
Origins Yale University, Washington, D.C.
Key people
Area served United States, South Korea, Southeast Asia
Focus(es) Refugee Rescue & Resettlement, Raising Awareness, Research & Strategy

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is the only full-time grassroots organization in North America devoted to the North Korean human rights and humanitarian crises. LiNK provides protection and aid to North Korean refugees hiding in China and, utilizing a modern-day underground railroad through Southeast Asia, rescues refugees and helps them to reach freedom. LiNK’s global grassroots movement works to redefine public perception on North Korea, shifting attention away from the politics and onto the people, and provides a way for concerned citizens to come alongside the North Korean people and help bring about positive change. LiNK also works to develop people-focused strategies that will have the potential to promote change inside North Korea in the long term."[1] LiNK is headquartered in Torrance, California, United States and has an additional Seoul office and Rescue Teams (fundraising groups formerly known as Chapters) worldwide.[2]

Mission statement[edit]

"Redefining North Korea by focusing on the people, while rescuing and providing resettlement support to North Korean refugees and pursuing an end to the North Korea crisis."[1]


LiNK was founded on March 27, 2004, the last day of the eighteenth annual Korea-American Students Conference (KASCON). Adrian Hong and Paul Kim, two of KASCON's leaders that fall, had arranged for a number of seminars and panels to focus on North Korea that year, including a special talk from a North Korean defector and video clips of escape attempts. Nearly 800 Korean American leaders were present, including over 50 distinguished speakers, experts, and important figures.

Word about LiNK spread quickly thanks to a wide collegiate network of Korean-American student leaders and they registered 40 chapters in the first month alone. Volunteers worked on staging protests, petition drives, and public awareness campaigns. In December of that year, LiNK sent two teams to the China-North Korea border where they learned that many North Korean orphans lived on the streets, were vulnerable to traffickers, and, since they were considered economic migrants, received no governmental protection. Before they left, the groups set up their first two shelters in what would grow to become Project: Safe Haven.

As a result of those trips LiNK's mission expanded to include more field projects as well as high-level activism and Chapter growth. By November 2006 LiNK had 100 chapters worldwide with presence in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Korea.

The years of '07–'08 were a time of transition for LiNK. In March 2007, LiNK altered its grassroots strategy and shifted to a membership-based model, which ultimately led to the disbanding of all Chapters by the end of that year, and in the summer of 2008 LiNK's Executive Director, Adrian Hong, stepped down leaving Hannah Song in charge. Hannah soon began talks with Justin Wheeler of The Option, another organization focused on North Korean refugees, and in the Fall of 2008 the two groups merged, retaining the structure and name of LiNK.

Early 2009 saw LiNK move from DC to Los Angeles in order to expand its networks and support. They also began to change their activism strategy from high-level political lobbying to their current strategy of bringing attention to the people of North Korea instead of the politics already frequently reported on. They also began to send groups across the country twice a year to give presentations to schools and churches about the North Korean human rights crisis.

In recent years, LiNK has revamped its membership system, with chapters now known as Rescue Teams, and have continued their rescue missions. To date, they have rescued 231 people and resettled them throughout the U.S. and South Korea.[3] They have also released two documentaries: The People's Crisis and Danny From North Korea[4]

LiNK's work[edit]

Refugee work[edit]

LiNK funds and works to rescue and resettlement of North Korean refugees who are undercover in China.

The nature of the Korean Demilitarized Zone is such that defection directly into South Korea is nearly impossible. As a result, refugees are forced to go north and cross the Tumen River into China. However, while China is signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, they refuse to recognize North Koreans as refugees, instead choosing to label them as illegal economic migrants. This puts North Koreans at risk for exploitation in China,[5] or repatriation if caught. If repatriated North Koreans face harsh reprisal in the forms of interrogation, prison camps, or even execution.[6]

Rescuing refugees[edit]

Beginning in 2010 LiNK has worked with partners in China to bring North Koreans through a modern-day underground railroad to safety in Southeast Asia before resettling them in either South Korea or the US. Refugees who attempt this journey alone often end up accumulating large amounts of debt to those who helped them. However, LiNK uses a "Free Passage Model" that focuses on keeping rescues free and safe for the refugees. Each rescue, which costs approximately $2500 per person, is fully funded by grassroots donations. To date, 231 refugees have been rescued.[7]

Resettlement support[edit]

Once LiNK has helped a refugee resettle into the country of their choice they can continue to receive assistance through LiNK's Resettlement Support programs. LiNK's involvement with each individual refugee varies based upon available access and level of client interest.

LiNK offers referral services, translation and interpretation help, English language tutoring, mentoring and networking help, and study abroad opportunities. They also host regular gatherings in South Korea for North Koreans to meet and connect.[8]


LiNK works to shift the attention on North Korea away from high politics to focus instead on the North Korean people through a combination of Media, Tours, and Campaigns, and are supported in their efforts by their Rescue Teams.[9]


In the spring of 2012, LiNK released its first independent feature-length documentary entitled, "The People's Crisis." Rather than seeking to evoke an emotional reaction, the film was purposed to inform the viewer about North Korea as a whole and LiNK's work.[10]

In the fall of 2012, LiNK released a short film to support its SHIFT campaign, loosely referred to as "The SHIFT Campaign Video." Supported by an anonymous partner, every view of the video on YouTube raises $0.25 on behalf of LiNK's work.[11]

In the spring of 2013, LiNK released its latest documentary, entitled "Danny From North Korea." It features Danny Lee, one of LiNK's earliest and most vocal clients, focusing upon his story of escape from North Korea and resettlement into the United States.[11] It has been used in both their spring and fall tours of 2013, and has featured in a number of independent film festivals.

In the Fall of 2013, LiNK release their "Bridge to North Korea" video, which talked about the ongoing changes within the country as well as highlighting how refugees are helping to drive those changes even while in other countries by sending back money and information to their families.[12]


LiNK informs the North American public about the realities of North Korea via biannual national tours in both the United States and Canada. Tours generally last eleven weeks and consist primarily of LiNK Nomads[13] visiting high schools, colleges, churches, and other community locations to screen LiNK media and answer questions about North Korea and LiNK's work.


LiNK creates and implements campaigns which highlight specific facets of importance regarding North Korea and work to bring under publicized issues to the attention of the public.

"Traditionally, the focus of the international community on North Korea has been at the level of international politics, nuclear weapons and the regime leadership. This has created a perception around North Korea that has discouraged involvement or concern from people in the outside world, because the issue is seen as political, static and unrelatable. We use creative campaigns to change perceptions on North Korea, specifically by focusing on the people and to raise funds to help the North Korean people."[14]

Bridge (2013)[edit]

Bridge focused on rescuing "game-changers" who can build "bridges" of information and money back to North Korea. This campaign focuses on the power an individual has to bring change to North Korea. By helping these refugees, LiNK hoped to spark increased market and information-sharing activity within the country. The initiative's goal is to raise $200,000.[15]

SHIFT (2012)[edit]

SHIFT was focused on changing the public's perception on North Korea from politics to the people. SHIFT encouraged people to tell the stories of the North Korean people themselves and to challenge media moguls to change the way that they are reporting on the North Korean issue.[16] It has since become an integral part of LiNK's focus.

The Reliance (2011)[edit]

The Reliance was a drive to create a human network of people committed to seeing every North Korean refugee free. LiNK used social media to mobilize people across the world to start their own fundraising campaigns online with 100% of proceeds going to rescue missions.

The Hundred (2009)[edit]

The Hundred was started to kick start the LiNK's fundraising efforts to begin rescuing refugees. The initial goal was to fund 100 rescue missions, which has since been accomplished.

Pursuing an end[edit]

LiNK works with affiliates from around the world, pursuing an end to the North Korea crisis through the organizations Research & Strategy department, and by advocating for its theory of change. LiNK believes that change will come from within the country, driven by its citizens, and not as a result of international pressure. Their research indicates a number of irreversible changes throughout the country that they seek to support.

Research and strategy[edit]

Developing people focused strategies, LiNK's Research & Strategy department, led by Director of Research & Strategy Sokeel Park, contributes independent research and analysis to the North Korea issue while collaborating with experts around the globe in seeking an end to the North Korea crisis.

Theory of change[edit]

LiNK advocates for a people-centered theory of change and lobbies on behalf of a citizen empowerment model.[17] Some of the changes they have identified and desire to facilitate include:

Bonds Between People: The sharing of illegal behavior, such as sharing foreign DVD's and subversive information fosters dependence on others outside the government.

Marketization: Starting during the collapse of government food and services in the '90's, black markets have become increasingly important for providing North Koreans with food and other goods, as well as becoming a place for meeting and exchanging news.

Corruption: The corruption of officials at local levels make government crackdowns on illegal activities and materials increasingly difficult. This makes access to foreign media easier and drives black market activity that erodes people's dependence on the regime.

Cross-border Trade: Increased imports of foreign goods, both legal and illegal, give North Koreans very tangible evidence of the increasing disparity between their country and their neighbors.

Ideological Erosion: As new generations grow up not having experienced the Korean War or the relatively successful period immediately following, and as others become increasingly disillusioned by government mismanagement such as the currency reevaluation of 2009, people are losing faith in the current system.

NK News Brief[edit]

LiNK publishes a weekly report which serves as a news aggregate regarding North Korea's internal situation, human rights, economy and food security, refugee issues, international politics and security, and expert analysis and opinion. It has been highlighted by practitioners and experts alike as a valuable resource for keeping up to date on the country.


LiNK frequently publishes independent news and analysis via its Blog[18] and Facebook page.[19]

Consistent publications include the NK News Brief, a weekly summary of North Korea related news[20] and financial oriented Annual Reports.[21]

Director of Research & Strategy, Sokeel Park has also been published in outside sources on multiple occasions.[22][23][24]

Media attention[edit]

LiNK and LiNK staff have been referenced and hosted various times by high profile media outlets.

During his time with LiNK, co-founder Adrian Hong was hosted in an hour long Google Tech Talk with now world-renowned North Korean refugee Shin Dong-hyuk.[25]

Current President/CEO Hannah Song and Director of Research & Strategy Sokeel Park have each been hosted individually by TED.[26][27]

Previous ambassador for LiNK, Shin Dong-hyuk spoke of his time with LiNK in his New York Times bestselling biography, written by Blaine Harden, "Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West." In his book, he criticizes LiNK for excessively controlling his movements and appearances.[28]

LiNK and Director of Research & Strategy, Sokeel Park, were referenced in an op-ed written by journalist, best-seller, and temporary North Korea captive Laura Ling, entitled "Gangnam style? Not in N. Korea."[29]

Director of Research & Strategy, Sokeel Park, was used as a reference for an article published in the February 9th, 2013 release of The Economist in an article entitled "Rumblings from below" which was largely in line with LiNK's current SHIFT campaign.[30]

Joseph Kim, one of LiNK's first rescued refugees, appeared at TED Global in June 2013. He spoke about his life in North Korea during the famine, the family he's lost, the family he's gained, and the power of hope.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "About". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  2. ^ "Contact". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  3. ^ "Refugee Rescues". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2014-03-03. 
  4. ^ LiNK Training Manual Summer 2012
  5. ^ Intervention Agenda Item 12: Elimination of Violence Against Women at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in April 2004; speaker: Ji Sun JEONG for A Woman's Voice International (AWVI, an NGO that focused on the PRC's and DPRK's treatment of North Korean refugees to China and of Christians).
  6. ^ "The Hidden Gulag – Exposing Crimes against Humanity in North Korea's Vast Prison System (pp. 111–147)". 
  7. ^ "Rescuing Refugees". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-11-20. 
  8. ^ "Empowering Refugees". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  9. ^ "Awareness". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  10. ^ "The People's Crisis in HD on Vimeo". 2011-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  11. ^ a b "SHIFT NORTH KOREA - $0.25 donated for every view! 한글자막". YouTube. 2012-09-28. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  12. ^ "Bridge to North Korea campaign video". 
  13. ^ "Nomads". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  14. ^ "Bridge". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  15. ^ "Bridge". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  16. ^ "Shift". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  17. ^ "A Changing North Korea". 
  18. ^ "Blog". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  19. ^ "LiNK: Liberty in North Korea - Torrance - Non-profitorganisatie". Facebook. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  20. ^ "Nk News Brief". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  21. ^ "Financials". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  22. ^ "Asia Times Online :: China's better route for North Korean refugees". 2012-03-29. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  23. ^ "How to Build on Growing NKHR Interest". Daily NK. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  24. ^ "Asia Times Online :: Korea News and Korean Business and Economy, Pyongyang News". 2012-09-22. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  25. ^ "Born And Raised In A Concentration Camp". YouTube. 1982-11-19. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  26. ^ "TEDxTripoli 2012 - Hannah Song". YouTube. 2012-02-27. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  27. ^ "Sokeel Park: How to solve a problem like North Korea". YouTube. 2012-06-25. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  28. ^ "Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West: Blaine Harden: 9780670023325: Books". 2012-03-29. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  29. ^ Laura Ling (2012-10-12). "Change is sneaking into North Korea - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  30. ^ "North Korea: Rumblings from below". The Economist. 2013-02-09. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  31. ^ "Joseph Kim: The family I lost in North Korea. And the family I gained.". 

External links[edit]