Shin Suk-ja

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Shin Suk-ja
Born 1942 (age 75–76)
Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do, Korea (now South Korea)
Known for Prisoner of conscience in North Korea
Spouse(s) Oh Kil-nam
Children Oh Hae-won (1976)
Oh Kyu-won (1978)
Korean name
Hangul 신숙자
Revised Romanization Shin Suk-ja
McCune–Reischauer Shin Sukja

Shin Suk-ja (also spelled Shin Sook-ja; born 1942) is a South Korean woman who is currently imprisoned, along with her daughters, in North Korea after her husband Oh Kil-nam defected from North Korea to Denmark, having been given a political asylum. The case received international attention, including Amnesty International's naming her a prisoner of conscience and campaigning heavily for her release; this appeal remains ignored by North Korean authorities.

Early life in South Korea and Germany[edit]

Shin was born in Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do, Korea in an area now part of South Korea. She attended elementary and middle school there. From 1958 she studied nursery at Masan Nursing School.[1] In 1970 she left South Korea for Germany, where she worked as a nurse in Tübingen. There she met Oh Kil-nam, a South Korean economics student, marrying him in 1972.[2] Later they moved near Kiel (Germany), where she gave birth to her daughters Oh Hae-won (on September 17, 1976) and Oh Kyu-won (on June 21, 1978). The family lived in Kronshagen near Kiel until 1985.[3]

Move to North Korea[edit]

Oh became involved in political activism against the South Korean government in the early 1980s.[4] He was influenced in this by a number of famous South Korean leftists in Germany, including Song Du-yul and Yun Isang; they later suggested that he could help his motherland by working as an economist in North Korea.[5] His activism also attracted the attention of North Korean government representatives, who further attempted to entice him to defect, claiming that his wife could receive free treatment for her hepatitis in Pyongyang. Over Shin's objections, the family moved to North Korea, arriving on 8 December 1985. Instead of receiving the promised medical treatment, he and his wife were reportedly held at a military camp and forced to study the Juche ideology of Kim Il-sung. They were then employed making propaganda broadcasts to South Korea.[6] While there, Oh claims to have met South Korean abductees who were also employed making propaganda broadcasts, including two of the flight attendants from the Korean Air Lines YS-11 hijacking.[7]

Later, the North Korean authorities sent Oh Kil-nam back to Germany to recruit other South Korean students for North Korea, telling him his family could not go along.[8] Oh said later that Shin hit him in the face when he said he would come back with some South Koreans, and that she then told him, "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."[1]

Oh Kil-nam's defection[edit]

In 1986, Oh Kil-nam requested political asylum in Denmark on his way to Germany. The following year, Shin and her daughters (then 9 and 11 years old) were deported to Yodok camp, apparently because her husband did not return to North Korea.[2] Official North Korean intermediaries gave Oh letters from Shin and her daughters in 1988 and 1989, and an audio tape with their voices and six photos of the family from Yodok in 1991.[4] Some of the photos were published.[9] North Korean defectors and former Yodok prisoners An Hyuk and Kang Chol-hwan stated that Shin had attempted suicide several times, but was still alive at the time of their 1987 release.[10]

Korea Times reported in September 2011 that Shin and her daughters were alive and had been relocated to another prison camp. The report also stated that she denied having written a pledge of allegiance to Kim Jong-il.[11]

Campaigns on Shin Suk-ja's behalf[edit]

In 1993, Amnesty International started a campaign to free Shin and her daughters from Yodok camp. On the basis of all the available information, Amnesty International believes that Shin Sook Ja and her two daughters were detained because of Oh's request for political asylum abroad. Amnesty International designated Shin and her daughters as prisoners of conscience and called on the North Korean authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally.[4]

In April 2011, human rights activists in Shin's hometown started the "Daughter of Tongyeong Rescue Campaign",[12] which received some media attention in South Korea and worldwide[9] and as of September 2011, had collected more than 70,000 signatures to free Shin and her daughters.[13]

In November 2011, Amnesty International included Shin and other prisoners in Yodok camp in the "Write for Rights" letter-writing campaign.[14] A month later, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea's state news service, described the campaign for Shin Suk-ja as "a smear campaign", "prompted by black-hearted intentions".[15]

Death report[edit]

In a May 2012 response to an inquiry by the United Nations, a North Korean official replied that Shin had died of hepatitis. The ambassador also stated that Shin and Oh's daughters had renounced their father for "abandoning" his family. Oh replied in a press conference that he did not believe the report, citing cases in which abducted Japanese citizens had been falsely declared dead by North Korea.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Campaign seeks to save SK woman from NK prison camp". Donga Ilbo, August 6, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "North Korea: Fear of "disappearance" of Shin Sook Ja (and her daughters), p. 5 - 8". Amnesty International, January 1994. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Save Oh Sisters!!". Free the NK Gulag (NGO). Archived from the original on April 24, 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c "2.2. Shin Sook Ja and her daughters", North Korea: Summary of Amnesty International's concerns, Amnesty International, 1993, archived from the original on 2013-01-12, retrieved 2010-02-25 
  5. ^ "아내·두 딸을 북한에 두고 탈출한 오길남 박사", Chosun Ilbo, 2009-09-03, retrieved 2010-02-25 
  6. ^ Harden, Blaine (2010-02-22), "A family and a conscience, destroyed by North Korea's cruelty", Washington Post, retrieved 2010-02-25 
  7. ^ Um, Han-Ah (2007-10-05), "Fate of Abducted Korean Airlines Passengers Still Unclear", Open Radio for North Korea, retrieved 2010-07-07 
  8. ^ "'Please fight for my wife, daughters'". The Korea Times, August 17, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  9. ^ a b "Groups gather in Japan to save S. Korean prisoner in N. Korea". The Korea Herald. September 6, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  10. ^ "아내•두 딸을 북한에 두고 탈출한 오길남 박사". Monthly Chosun Ilbo. March 9, 2009. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  11. ^ "'Daughter of Tongyeong'". The Korea Times. September 22, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  12. ^ "A City Waiting for Its Daughter Back". Daily NK. September 9, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Shin Suk Ja Movement Gaining Traction". Daily NK. September 25, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2011. 
  14. ^ "North Korea: Thousands held in Secret Camps". Amnesty International, November 2011. Archived from the original on November 20, 2011. Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  15. ^ "S. Korea's Anti-DPRK Human Rights Campaign Slammed". Korean Central News Agency. December 12, 2011. Archived from the original on October 12, 2014. Retrieved January 27, 2012. 
  16. ^ Kim Young-jin (8 May 2012). "North Korea says detainee died of hepatitis". The Korea Times. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 

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