From North Korea to UK election candidate: Defector fights for ‘voiceless’

LONDON: Jihyun Park shares the civic issues of every other would-be city councillor in Britain, from native schooling to potholes within the roads. But she is exclusive in a single regard: No different candidate has fled North Korea.

Park is believed to be the primary defector from the oppressive state to have run for workplace in any nation, apart from South Korea, after fleeing human trafficking in China and the brutal privations of a North Korean jail camp.

Thirteen years after discovering refuge in Britain, the 52-year-old is standing for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative social gathering in council elections developing in May, pledging to communicate for different “voiceless people”.

“The UK people welcomed me to this land and I finally found my freedom. I want to pay back,” she advised AFP in an interview.

Park first tried to flee the world’s most reclusive state in 1998, when it was within the grip of famine. She and her youthful brother trekked to China, the place they bought separated, and she or he was bought right into a sham “marriage” with an alcoholic gambler.

READ: South Korea passes law to ban anti-North Korea leaflets amid activists’ outcry

After six years in China and having borne a son, Park was arrested by Chinese police and despatched again alone to North Korea, the place she was thrown right into a detention camp for political criminals and compelled to do backbreaking guide labour.

Life was a day by day grind of “starvation, prison, torture”, she mentioned. Ordinary individuals had been handled “less than animals”.

Thrown out of the camp after she turned ailing, Park once more journeyed throughout the mountains into China and reclaimed her son, heading on to Mongolia in 2005 with a gaggle of different defectors, together with one who turned her husband for actual.


Giving up on that try, for concern of her younger son’s life, Park headed with the group to Beijing and lived in hiding till a Christian pastor in 2007 directed her to the UN refugee company.

She was ultimately granted asylum in Britain together with her husband and son in January 2008 and was resettled in Bury, a part of the Greater Manchester conurbation in northwest England.

The former schoolteacher labored in a Korean restaurant in Manchester, studying English at an grownup school, and have become a human rights activist, publicising abuses in her homeland and serving to different North Koreans to settle in Britain.

Jihyun Park is believed to be the first defector from North Korea to have run for office in any

Jihyun Park is believed to be the primary defector from North Korea to have run for workplace in any nation moreover South Korea. (Photo: AFP/Lindsey Parnaby)

“Bury is my motherland,” she mentioned, likening her expertise of studying English within the gritty market city to being reborn.

She joined the Conservatives in 2016. The centre-right social gathering’s coverage on asylum-seekers is much less welcoming than others, however Park sees no contradiction in operating underneath its banner after being chosen to run as a ward councillor in Bury.

She recognized Conservative values as “freedom, justice, education, family life” and mentioned: “North Korean people need these values and many UK people too need these values.”

However, electoral campaigning is suspended owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, and her possibilities of success in May are slim.

The ward in Bury is a stronghold of the opposition Liberal Democrats, and in earlier elections in 2019 the Conservative candidate got here a distant fifth.

But merely having the ability to stand in a free, multi-party election is a definite novelty for Park.

Elections to North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament are restricted to a single candidate chosen by dynastic chief Kim Jong Un’s ruling entrance.


Win or lose in May, Park mentioned: “This experience has improved my life for next time. I will continue with working with Conservatives, I will work with residents for community work, not just with refugees.”

Other escapees have solid political careers in democratic South Korea.

Thae Yong Ho, Pyongyang’s deputy ambassador to London, turned the primary to be instantly elected by South Korean voters final yr following his defection in 2016.

READ: South Korea takes in 164 asylum seekers from nearly 6,000 applicants

Hazel Smith, a North Korea knowledgeable on the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, mentioned the regime in Pyongyang largely treats defectors within the West as “irrelevant”, though it does monitor higher-profile figures corresponding to Thae.

“It’s certainly news that a North Korean is standing to be a Conservative in the UK. It reinforces the fact that North Koreans can equally participate in a political process,” she mentioned.

“But the future for most North Koreans, if they’re anti-government, is looking to northeast China or South Korea as a model.”

Park says regime operatives haven’t given her any unwelcome consideration since she took on a political profile, and she or he wouldn’t be silenced in the event that they did.

“They took away everything – my past, my family, my friends, but they never killed our spirit,” she mentioned.

“That’s why we always fight this evil. I want to stand up by fighting for other people’s freedoms.”

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