Sunday 18 August 2019

'Save my wife and child' pleads desperate North Korean defector

Mr Lee fled to South Korea two years ago (AP)
Mr Lee fled to South Korea two years ago (AP)

Nicola Smith

A North Korean defector has made a heartfelt plea for international help to save his wife and young child from execution after they were caught trying to flee the pariah state into China.

In an emotional interview with reporters, Taewon Lee (29) said he last heard from his wife and four-year-old son - whose identities he wanted to protect - on November 4, in a snatched phone conversation when she told him they had been arrested in China.

"I almost fainted. I collapsed on the floor for hours," he said, speaking from the South Korean capital, Seoul. Since then he has pleaded with the South's foreign ministry for help, but their diplomatic efforts to locate his family have yielded few results.

The consequences of deportation would be dire.

"They will definitely be sent to a prison camp. In the worst case, they will be killed," said Mr Lee. "Even if they forgive my son, his background will be that his father went to South Korea, his mother was in a prison camp or executed. He will have no family, maybe he will become a street child."

News of the young family's plight comes just days after a blistering speech by US president Donald Trump to South Korea's parliament, where he denounced the North as a "hell that no person deserves", whose citizens face "torture, starvation, rape and murder" on a constant basis.

But despite building evidence of human rights atrocities, there has been a reported surge in deportations back to the North from China, the most common escape route for defectors.

Mr Lee fled to South Korea two years ago, choosing to make the initial journey alone as it was so dangerous. When he safely reached Seoul, he saved the money for his wife and son to join him, but she was too terrified to leave because of the penalties for being caught.

Harassment from security agencies forced her to take the risk of crossing into China's Liaoning province on October 17. However Chinese police arrested them in Shenyang on November 4.


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