North Korea is known as the ‘hermit state’ because of its extreme levels of privacy that shield us from understanding what life is like in the nation. The dictatorial regime, which is now run by Kim Jong-un, has shut out the outside world in a bid to keep its affairs secret. Defectors’ stories have proved invaluable in shedding light on the mysterious rule of the Kim dynasty. Revealing information about North Korea can be extremely dangerous and whistleblowers are fully aware that they are putting their lives at risk. One of them, a young woman who fled to South Korea as a teenager regularly spoke out about the dictatorship as part of a satirical TV show. Despite being told by a detective that North Korea may try to seek revenge, she refused to be silenced and vowed to educate people about the realities of living under Kim Jong-un’s rule.
Yeon-mi Park was 16 years old when she embarked upon a near-two-year journey to escape from the North Korean regime, alongside her parents.
Her father had encouraged them to make the treacherous trip after he was allegedly tortured multiple times and feared his family’s lives were at risk.
They bribed officials on the border of the hermit state before going into hiding in China and trekking the scorching Gobi desert to reach Mongolia.
They had “no guide” or help as they travelled to the South Korean embassy in Mongolia – which enabled them to start a new life.
Several months into their trip, while they were hiding in China, Yeon-mi Park’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given three months to live.
“At 3am we had to move his body, everybody was sleeping and then I buried him at midnight, by myself.
“I was sitting there and it was so cold, there was nobody I could call, there was nobody who came to my father’s funeral, nobody knows.”
Ms Park and her mother trekked for 24 hours without a break during the final stint across the Gobi desert – fearing that if they stopped they might die.
She said: “When I saw my father’s death it was not human, he was less better than an animal and I didn’t want the end of my life to be like that.”
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In the years that followed, Ms Park has spoken against the North Korean regime and explained why she continues to put her life at risk by criticising Kim Jong-un’s state.
Ms Park said: “My detective just told me, ‘Seriously, you are in danger and you have to change all your information’.
“But I said no because my name, Park Yeon-mi, is my legacy from my father, that’s the only one he just left me.
“I’m very proud of my name so that’s why if I die I’m ok… I mean, I already experienced this freedom so I’m satisfied.
“At least I can say that I did something for you, my people in North Korea.”