In the News – Protests for N.Korean Defectors Sent Powerful Signal

In the News – Protests for N.Korean Defectors Sent Powerful Signal

Protests across the street from the Chinese Embassy in Seoul that began in February against Beijing’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors came to an end on Monday. It had been 77 days since the protests began with a press conference by conservative Liberty Forward Party lawmaker Park Sun-young on Feb. 13 calling on Beijing to stop the repatriation of 24 North Korean defectors who were caught hiding in China.

Residents of the neighborhood complained about inconvenience as the demonstrations dragged on, and police and the Jongno District Office also requested that they end.

At first, the protests did not gain much attention. Then on Feb. 21 Park began a hunger strike and actor Cha In-pyo showed up with around 50 teenage North Korean defectors, drawing widespread attention to the demonstrations. Lee Ae-ran, the first North Korean defector to earn a PhD in South Korea, took the baton from Park and carried on the hunger strike, followed by other prominent officials.

Members of the Christian Council of Korea, National Buddhist Council for Security of Korea, Korean Female Lawyers’ Association and Korean Medical Women’s Association also took part in the demonstrations. In March, around 500 civic groups, including the Council of North Korean Human Rights Associations, formed a network seeking to rescue North Korean defectors and held protest rallies at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. every day.

Soon the world began to pay attention. On March 5, the human rights subcommittee at the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on China’s repatriation of North Korean defectors, and on March 20 the House passed a resolution opposing it. On April 10, rallies were held in 53 cities around the world opposing China’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors. Even the legendary 70s German pop combo Boney M took part in a demonstration in Seoul.

During a summit with President Lee Myung-bak on March 26, Chinese President Hu Jintao said his government “respects [South Korea’s] position. It will strive to ensure that the issue is resolved smoothly.” Soon afterward, China finally released four North Korean defectors, including three family members of a South Korean prisoner of war, who had been hiding in the South Korean Embassy in Beijing since 2009.

Conservative groups have been supporting North Korean defectors from behind the scenes while progressive groups opposed any efforts to shed more light on the issue, claiming that would end up causing Beijing to step up its crackdown on the defectors and shut off existing escape routes. South Koreans had practically given up hope that China would ever stop unconditionally supporting the North Korean regime. But the flames that were lit in Seoul 77 days ago ended up moving the hearts of not only South Koreans but of people around the world and prodded China into making at least some changes. It was a positive signal that a new strategy can make a difference for North Korean defectors.

 

Original article can be found here.

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