Liberty in North Korea

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Liberty in North Korea (LiNK)
LiNK Logo.png
Founded 2004
Founder Adrian Hong, Paul Kim
Type NGO, 501(c)(3)
Focus Refugee Rescue & Resettlement, Raising Awareness, Research & Strategy
Origins Yale University, Washington, D.C.
Area served
United States, South Korea, Southeast Asia
Key people

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based out of Long Beach, California, United States, and Seoul, South Korea. The organization rescues North Korean refugees hiding in China and resettles them in South Korea or the United States, so that they can avoid being forcibly repatriated back to North Korea, where they can face harsh punishments as a result of illegally emigrating. The refugees first travel from China to Southeast Asia through what the organization calls a modern-day "Underground Railroad", where they can then be processed and travel to South Korea (or occasionally, the United States) where they are recognized as refugees. From there, LiNK helps the refugees through its resettlement programs. Each rescue costs approximately $3,000 USD, and includes $500 for resettlement programs. As of February 2017, LiNK has resettled 600 refugees throughout the U.S. and South Korea.

LiNK also seeks to raise awareness of human rights issues in North Korea through media production, conducting research, and through semiannual tours. The organization has produced several feature-length documentaries, including Danny from North Korea and Bridge to North Korea in 2013 and The People's Crisis and the SHIFT campaign video in 2012.

The organization has a Research & Strategy department, led by Sokeel Park and based in Seoul, that conducts research on North Korean issues with an emphasis on human rights issues. The organization views this as being contrary to many other NGOs and governments that emphasize the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons program and other national security issues.

Tours consist of five vans each with three or four "Nomads", or volunteer traveling representatives, who deliver presentations at high schools, colleges and universities, churches, and other venues. Many of these tours are accompanied by campaigns, which have a theme that the Nomads and the organization in general emphasize. The most recent campaign was Jangmadang, named after the Korean word for "market" that is used by North Koreans to refer to the black markets that have proliferated in the country since the collapse of the state-run food distribution system in the late 1990s.

Rescue missions are funded through donations and Rescue Teams, which are groups based in universities, high schools, and other venues that raise funds for refugee rescues through bake sales, concerts, and other fundraising activities. As of July 2015, there were 347 Rescue Teams that have raised a total of $396,045, enough for 151 refugee rescues.


Early years[edit]

Originally known as Liberation in North Korea,[1] Liberty in North Korea was founded at Yale University on March 27, 2004,[2] the last day of the eighteenth annual Korean American Students Conference (KASCON).[3] Yale student Adrian Hong and comedian 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 talk from a North Korean defector and video clips of escape attempts.[4] Nearly 800 Korean-American students were present, including over 50 speakers, experts, and other figures.[5]

LiNK's name recognition spread quickly through the efforts of a wide collegiate network of Korean-American student leaders, who registered 40 chapters in one month after KASCON.[5] 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 and were vulnerable to traffickers.[5] Furthermore, they were considered economic migrants by the Chinese government, thus receiving no governmental protection.[6] Before they left, the group set up their first two shelters in what would become Project: Safe Haven.[5]

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 March 2007, LiNK had 100 chapters in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Korea.[5]

In 2007-08, LiNK made changes to its strategy and leadership. 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.[7] In the summer of 2008, LiNK's Executive Director, Adrian Hong, stepped down leaving Hannah Song in charge.[8] Song 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.[9]

Move to Los Angeles[edit]

In early 2009, LiNK moved from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in order to expand its networks and support.[10] The organization also began to change its activism strategy from high-level political lobbying to bringing attention to the people of North Korea instead of the politics already frequently reported on. Beginning in the spring of 2009,[11] they also began to send groups of interns called Nomads across the country twice a year to give presentations to schools, colleges, churches and other venues about the North Korean human rights crisis.[12] LiNK has conducted 13 tours as of fall 2014,[11] which occur twice a year on a semester basis.[13]

Refugee assistance[edit]

North Korean refugees in China are vulnerable to exploitation and punishment in China,[14] and can be repatriated if caught.[15] If repatriated, North Koreans face harsh reprisal in the forms of interrogation, prison camps, or even execution.[16]

As a result, LiNK works to rescue North Korean refugees hiding in China and helps them escape through Southeast Asia.[14] It uses a "free passage model" to rescue refugees without any cost or condition, and works to ensure that they are protected along their journey to Southeast Asia. As of February 2017, LiNK has resettled 600 refugees throughout the U.S. and South Korea.[14]

The cost of each rescue is $3,000 USD.[14] The bulk is spent on rescue fees, about $1,350, which includes all costs for fines, fees, and personnel who help coordinate the rescue. $250 is spent on basic needs, like food, clothes, and shoes. $500 is reserved for transportation costs along the journey, which is about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) long. Shelter along the journey costs $100, and another $300 is set aside for contingency purposes. Finally, $500 is spent on resettlement support once the refugee arrives at his or her destination. Through LiNK's Resettlement Assistance Program, newly resettled refugees are provided with a host of services to help them adjust to their new lives. This includes personal development, career development, and financial services.[17]

Raising awareness[edit]

LiNK works to shift the attention on North Korea away from high politics and towards the North Korean people through a combination of media, tours, and campaigns. They are supported in their efforts by Rescue Teams.[18]

Rescue Teams[edit]

Formerly known as chapters,[19] Rescue Teams are groups formed at universities, colleges, high schools, churches, and other venues that raise funds for refugee rescues through bake sales, concerts, and other fundraising activities. As of September 2015, there were 331 Rescue Teams that had collectively raised $403,082 to fund the rescues of 154 refugees.[18]


LiNK informs the North American public about the realities of North Korea via biannual national tours in both the United States and Canada.[13] Tours generally last eleven weeks and consist primarily of LiNK Nomads visiting high schools, colleges, churches, and other community locations to screen LiNK media and answer questions about North Korea and LiNK's work.[12]


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. The most recent campaign was titled Jangmadang, referring to the Korean word for "market" that is used in North Korea to refer to a place where North Koreans gather to buy and sell goods.[13] Past campaigns have included Bridge (2013), SHIFT (2012), The Reliance (2011), and TheHundred (2009).

Jangmadang (2014)[edit]

Jangmadang focused on the markets that are proliferating in North Korea to circumvent the government's control of trade. These markets began forming in the late 1990s in response to a severe famine in the country and an inability of the government to provide adequate food supplies.[20] The markets also provide a venue for information dissemination through electronic media, such as DVDs and portable DVD players, USB flash drives, SD cards, portable radios, Chinese cell phones with international calling capabilities, and through word-of-mouth.[13]

The event included videos from North Korean defectors Joo Yang, Yeon-mi Park, and Joseph Kim. The campaign ran during the fall of 2014.[13]

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 was to raise $200,000.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23]

TheHundred (2009)[edit]

TheHundred was started to kick start LiNK's fundraising efforts to begin rescuing refugees. The initial goal was to fund 100 rescue missions, which has since been accomplished.[24]


Bridge to North Korea (2013)[edit]

In the fall of 2013, LiNK released "Bridge to North Korea", which discussed the ongoing changes within the country as well as highlighting how refugees are helping to drive those changes even while residing in other countries by sending back money and information to their families.[21]

Danny from North Korea (2013)[edit]

In the spring of 2013, LiNK released a documentary titled "Danny From North Korea".[25] It features Danny Lee, one of LiNK's earliest and most vocal refugees, and focuses on his story of escape from North Korea in March 2005 and resettlement into the United States. It has been used in both their spring and fall tours of 2013,[26] and has been featured in a number of independent film festivals.[27]

SHIFT campaign video (2012)[edit]

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.[22]

The People's Crisis (2012)[edit]

In the spring of 2012, LiNK released its first independent feature-length documentary titled "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.[28]


Liberty in North Korea held its first Summit at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, from June 12–15, 2014.[29] North Korean speakers included activists Joseph Kim, Joo Yang, Yeon-mi Park and others.

Summit consisted of sessions and labs, educating participants on the social, political, and economic conditions in North Korea and what LiNK was doing for refugees. The event concluded with a private show from Run River North, David Choi, and Eatyourkimchi.

Research and strategy[edit]

LiNK's Research and Strategy department, led by Director of Research and 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.[8] It develops strategies that focus on the people of North Korea, rather than high-level politics, nuclear weapons, and other issues more commonly at the focal point of international leaders' attention.

Theory of change[edit]

LiNK advocates for a people-centered theory of change and lobbies on behalf of a citizen empowerment model.[30] Some of the changes they have identified and desire to facilitate include:

Bonds Between People: The sharing of illegal media such as foreign DVDs and conveying subversive information fosters dependence on others outside the government.[30]

Marketization: Starting during the collapse of government-provided food and services in the 1990s, 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.[30]

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.[30]

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.[30]

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 revaluation of 2009, people are losing faith in the current system.[30]

North Korea news brief[edit]

The Research and Strategy team produces a weekly summary of North Korea-related news, which serves as an aggregate regarding North Korea's internal situation, human rights, economy and food security, refugee issues, international politics and security, and expert analysis and opinion. The team refers to the aggregation as the "NK News Brief".[31]


LiNK partners with several like-minded organizations to increase its reach. One of these partnerships is with the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), which has collaborated with LiNK and the Simon Wiesenthal Center to host an event at the Museum of Tolerance titled "North Korea's Political Prisoner Camp System and the Plight of North Korean Refugees: A Call for Action".[32] The event took place on October 12, 2012, and included speakers from each organization, including LiNK President & CEO Hannah Song and North Korean prison camp escapee Shin Dong-hyuk.


LiNK's media[edit]

LiNK publishes news and analysis via its blog[33] and Facebook page.[34] In addition, financially oriented annual reports are published each year,[35] and this financial data is confirmed by GuideStar, a third-party charity monitoring service.[36]

Media attention[edit]

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.[37]

Shin, who was once a senior ambassador for LiNK,[38] spoke of his time with the organization in his New York Times-bestselling biography, "Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West," written by Blaine Harden. In his book, he criticizes LiNK for excessively controlling his movements and appearances.[39]

Current President/CEO Hannah Song and Director of Research & Strategy Sokeel Park have each been hosted individually by TED.[40][41] Joseph Kim, one of LiNK's first rescued refugees, also appeared at TED Global in June 2013. He spoke about his life in North Korea during the famine, the family he lost and gained, and the power of hope.[42]

Sokeel Park has been interviewed by major media outlets on topics regarding North Korea. He was referenced in an op-ed written by journalist, best-seller, and temporary North Korea captive Laura Ling, titled "Gangnam style? Not in N. Korea."[43] The Economist magazine included a statement from Park for an article titled "Rumblings from below".[44] He has also written several articles of his own, including "China's better route for North Korean refugees"[45] and "Kim Jong-eun prepares balancing act"[46] for Asia Times Online (the latter article co-authored by Chris Green) as well as "How to Build on Growing NKHR Interest" for Daily NK.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "about LiNK". Liberation in North Korea. Archived from the original on August 28, 2005. Retrieved 2014-11-05. 
  2. ^ "About". Facebook. Retrieved 2014-09-02. 
  3. ^ "KASY: Korean-American Students at Yale". Yale University. Retrieved 2014-09-02. 
  4. ^ "News Brief: Students Found Group Focused on Human Rights in North Korea; Chapter Joins Yale, Other Universities". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2014-10-13. 
  5. ^ "Explaining North Korean Migration to China". Wilson Center. Retrieved 2014-11-05. 
  6. ^ "Letter from the Director". Liberty in North Korea. 2007-03-23. Archived from the original on May 17, 2008. Retrieved 2014-11-05. 
  7. ^ a b "Our Team". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2014-09-02. 
  8. ^ "Justin Wheeler". LinkedIn. Retrieved 2014-09-19. 
  9. ^ "Liberty in North Korea: Can you 'accelerate change' from the outside?". NK News. 2014-11-05. Retrieved 2014-11-05. 
  10. ^ a b "Get to Know Our Tour Manager Chelsea!". Liberty in North Korea. 2014-09-04. Retrieved 2014-10-18. 
  11. ^ a b "Nomads". Liberty in North Korea. Archived from the original on 2013-10-15. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  12. ^ a b c d e "Tours". Liberty in North Korea. Archived from the original on 2014-09-04. Retrieved 2014-09-01. 
  13. ^ a b c d "Rescuing Refugees". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-11-20. 
  14. ^ "Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 (pp. 111-115)" (PDF). U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2014-09-02. 
  15. ^ "The Hidden Gulag – Exposing Crimes against Humanity in North Korea's Vast Prison System (pp. 111–147)" (PDF). The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. 2012. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  16. ^ "Empowering Refugees". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  17. ^ a b "Rescue Teams". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2014-09-02. 
  18. ^ "CHAPTERS ARE NOW RESCUE TEAMS!". Liberty in North Korea. 2012-11-16. Retrieved 2014-09-02. 
  19. ^ "Jangmadang". DailyNK. Retrieved 2014-09-03. 
  20. ^ a b "Bridge to North Korea campaign video". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  21. ^ a b "SHIFT NORTH KOREA - $0.25 donated for every view! 한글자막". Liberty in North Korea. 2012-09-28. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  22. ^ "The Reliance". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2014-09-01. 
  23. ^ "TheHundred". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2014-09-01. 
  24. ^ "Danny From North Korea Documentary by Liberty in North Korea (33 mins)". Liberty in North Korea. 2012-09-28. Retrieved 2014-09-01. 
  25. ^ "Annual Report 2013: Liberty in North Korea". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  26. ^ "4th NK Human Rights International Film Festival". Daily NK. 2014-09-13. Retrieved 2014-10-21. 
  27. ^ "The People's Crisis in HD on Vimeo". 2011-10-29. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  28. ^ "Everything You Need to Know about Summit". Liberty in North Korea. 2014-04-10. Retrieved 2015-03-17. 
  29. ^ a b c d e f "A Changing North Korea". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  30. ^ "NK News Brief". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  31. ^ "Events - The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea". The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Retrieved 2014-09-05. 
  32. ^ "Blog". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  33. ^ "LiNK: Liberty in North Korea - Torrance - Non-profitorganisatie". Facebook. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  34. ^ "Financials". Liberty in North Korea. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  35. ^ "GuideStar Exchange Reports for LIBERTY IN NORTH KOREA". GuideStar. Retrieved 2014-08-31. 
  36. ^ "Born and Raised in a Concentration Camp". YouTube. 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  37. ^ "Shin Dong-hyuk, our friend and former Senior... - LiNK: Liberty in North Korea". Facebook. 2012-12-18. Retrieved 2014-09-19. 
  38. ^ Harden, Blaine. Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. Viking, 2012, p. 185.
  39. ^ "TEDxTripoli 2012 - Hannah Song". YouTube. 2012-02-27. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  40. ^ "Sokeel Park: How to solve a problem like North Korea". YouTube. 2012-06-25. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  41. ^ "Joseph Kim: The family I lost in North Korea. And the family I gained.". TED. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  42. ^ Laura Ling (2012-10-12). "Change is sneaking into North Korea - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  43. ^ "North Korea: Rumblings from below". The Economist. 2013-02-09. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  44. ^ "Asia Times Online :: China's better route for North Korean refugees". Asia Times Online. 2012-03-29. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  45. ^ "Asia Times Online :: Korea News and Korean Business and Economy, Pyongyang News". Asia Times Online. 2012-09-22. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 
  46. ^ "How to Build on Growing NKHR Interest". Daily NK. Retrieved 2013-10-12. 

External links[edit]