Park Sang-hak (2014)
|Known for||Founder of Fighters for a Free North Korea|
|Revised Romanization||Bak Sang-hak|
Life in North Korea
Born in 1968 at Hyesan, Park grew up in a privileged family in North Korea. Park Sang-hak attended Kim Chaek University studying IT. After graduating, he worked at Kim Il Sung Youth Alliance. He met with other members of the community every Monday for political classes and Saturday self-criticism sessions.
Park’s grandmother, returning from a rare visit to Japan, told of how much happier people were in other countries. He began to hear from fellow students, who had been chosen to study in other communist countries, share stories of the outside world. He discovered people in Europe didn’t have to do self-criticisms each week, which had been a great source of stress. Yet, he still had no desire to leave. He continued to work in Kim Il Sung Youth Alliance, got a girlfriend, and got engaged. He was preparing for his planned wedding.
Then one day in the summer of 1997, Park received a message from a Chinese man. He had come on behalf of Park’s father, who was in Japan working for the government. His father realized the family was in danger, and he wanted them to leave. His father discovered the scale of the famine in North Korea. Fearing fresh purges of officials in the Workers’ Party, he sent for his family to leave. Suspecting a trap, Park demanded proof from the Chinese man, such as pictures of his father. It took two months for this to be arranged.
Defection to South Korea
Once they had proof, Park took his mother, brother, and sister and headed for China. After bribing North Korean guards to look the other way, Park and his brother swam across a river into China, while their mother and sister floated across the river using an inner tube. They were picked up on the other side of the border by a car, as arranged by his father, and the whole family flew on false passports to South Korea.
When he came to South Korea, he enrolled at Seoul National University. He was able to study different political theories. He was able to compare the North Korean system to the democratic system of the South. He restudied Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and also studied South Korean presidents Yi Seung Man and Pak Chung Hee. He could have lived comfortably as a researcher at the Mobile Institute, but he felt some responsibility. He felt as an intellectual he had responsibility to be a part of this movement. The reason why he engaged in these activities was because he was angry at the North Korean system.
In April 2003, Park and his family learned of what happened to his relatives back home. He learned that his fiancée had been beaten so badly, she was left unrecognizable and poor. His two uncles were also beaten to death, and his cousins were stripped of their wealth, reducing them to street beggars. The relatives were guilty by association as judged by the North Korean regime, and therefore punished. Learning that so many deaths were caused by his father's defection left him angry, so he quit his job.
Fighters for a Free North Korea
Fighters for a Free North Korea is known for periodically launching balloons carrying human rights and pro-democracy literature, DVDs, transistor radios and USB flash drives from South Korea into North Korea. Over two million such balloons have been launched. The balloons, which generally reach the Pyongyang area after three to four hours in the air, are timed to release their materials in the Pyongyang area.
According to the Wall Street Journal, supporters of the balloon campaign say that it "is one of the most effective tools for change inside North Korea, where information about the outside world is highly restricted". Critics of the campaign, reported the Journal, "oppose the move for causing inter-Korean frictions".
Park and his colleagues released balloons containing leaflets from Ganghwa, an island off the west coast of South Korea, in October 2012, shortly after being prevented by authorities from releasing them from Paju, their usual launch site, which North Korea had threatened to fire upon if the balloon release went forward.
In September 2011, a North Korean defector was arrested in Seoul by members of the National Intelligence Service on his way to meet with Park, referred to as "Enemy Zero" by the Pyongyang regime. South Korean authorities said that he had planned to kill Park either by poisoning his drink or by jabbing him with a poisoned needle. Park said that the assassin, Ahn, had phoned him earlier and asked to meet him. "Ahn told me by phone", Park said, "that he was to be accompanied by a visitor from Japan who wants to help our efforts. But then I was told by the NIS not to go to the meeting due to the risk of assassination".
The Independent of London noted that Ahn "could face the death penalty" under South Korea's National Security Law, but he ended up being sentenced to four years in prison. He was also ordered to pay 11.75 million Won in fines (about $10,000 USD ), which was the same amount he had been promised for assassinating Park. The Independent also pointed out that the assassination plot was “reminiscent of the Cold War killing of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, who was stabbed with a ricin-tipped umbrella in London in 1978.”
Awards and honors
- "Park Sang Hak". Oslo Freedom Forum. Archived from the original on July 9, 2013. Retrieved July 7, 2013.
- "Freedom Collection » Interviews » Park Sang Hak". www.freedomcollection.org. Retrieved 2017-11-21.
- Birrell, Ian (2016-08-27). "'How could our country lie so completely?': meet the North Korean defectors". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-11-21.
- Feith, David. "Park Sang Hak: North Korea's 'Enemy Zero'". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 7, 2013.
- Hua, Vanessa (December 20, 2006). "How defectors cope in South Korea / The sense of loss remains, and while life may be more free, the transition isn't easy". Sf Gate. Retrieved July 7, 2013.
- Blistein, Jon (April 10, 2015). "South Korean Police Detain Activist Behind The Interview Air Drops". The Rolling Stones. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
- Dearden, Lizzie (2014). "Park Sang-hak: The man trying to liberate North Korea using balloons". The Independent. The Independent.
- Macneill, David (September 17, 2011). "North Korean hitman foiled in plot to poison top dissident". The Independent. London. Retrieved July 7, 2013.
- Kwaak, Jeyup. "North Korea Activist Wins Human Rights Award". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 7, 2013.
- Paskin, Janet. "Meet the Man Who Plans to Smuggle The Interview Into North Korea". Bloomberg. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
- "Currency Converter - Yahoo! Finance". finance.yahoo.com. Retrieved 2015-11-12.