TESTIMONY: Kim Dong-nam
Pictured: Kim Kyung-jae (L) and his mother (R); phot was taken on September 9, 2008. In North Korea, September 9 is the Day of the Foundation of the Republic. This commemorative photo taken in front of the People’s Library in Hoeryong, North Korea. Kim Kyung-jae was arrested on September 25, only two weeks after this photo was taken.
Kim Dong-nam’s son, Kim Kyung-jae, was arrested by the SSD for meeting a missionary and studying the Bible for three days in China in 2007. To this day, it is unknown whether he is still alive.
In 2007, Kim Kyung-jae visited Yanji, China with a friend, where he met a Korean-American pastor, Reverend Im Myeong-cheol, and studied the Bible. They stayed at Cha Dong-seong’s house in Bangwon-ri, Hoeryong City before going to China, and illegally entered China with Cha’s help. One year later, Cha was arrested by the SSD. During the interrogation, Cha admitted to helping individuals illegally enter China and gave the names of individuals who were involved.
To capture and arrest Reverend Im in China, the SSD arrested Kim Seung-ho of Gangwon Province, who was associated with Pastor Im. Pastor Im was operating a church outreach program in China. The SSD attempted to abduct Reverend Im after arresting Kim Seung-ho. Over the course of the SSD’s investigation, 19 acquaintances who had met Reverend Im in China were arrested. Kim Dong-nam’s son, Kim Kyung-jae, was also arrested on September 25, 2008 as part of this investigation.
When Kim Kyung-jae was arrested, his mother was also present in the house. The SSD officer who came to the house did not present any identification and only told them that he was from the SSD and had come to investigate a few things. There was no arrest warrant. The officer asked if Kim Kyung-jae was in the house, and he took Kim to the SSD. The officer did not provide any information about the reasons for the arrest.
Kim’s mother went to the SSD to find her son, but the SSD refused to provide any information. The SSD only told her that she should stop trying to find out where her son had gone. She asked other acquaintances to determine her son’s whereabouts, but to no avail. The SSD did not allow her to see her son.
It is presumed that Kim Kyung-jae was investigated by Hoeryong City SSD for six months. It is also believed that he was then transferred to another ku-ryu-jang for another six months, but there is no precise information about what happened.
After 40 days, Kim’s mother heard from Sohn Chul-hoon that her son was being investigated by the SSD. Sohn had been investigated at the same ku-ryu-jang as her son. Sohn had been arrested and investigated by the SSD for facilitating a phone call between Kim and his father, Kim Dong-nam. The SSD had sought to determine how Kim had contacted his father, who had escaped North Korea, and they arrested Sohn and confiscated his phone. Sohn was interrogated for 40 days, forced to pay a fine, and was sent to a kyo-hwa-so.
It is presumed that Kim was investigated by Hoeryong City SSD and North Hamgyong Province SSD. After a year, Hoeryong City SSD sent a letter to Kim’s mother. In the message, Kim asked his mother to give their refrigerator as a bribe to the SSD officer who delivered the message. Kim also asked his mother to send clothes, shoes, and corn powder. Those who are sent to the political prison camps typically receive necessary items and supplies from their family before entering the camps.
Kim’s mother went to Hoeryong City SSD, where she handed over the specified items, but she was not allowed to see her son. Kim Dong-nam sought to determine his son’s whereabouts for another year by asking acquaintances, but to no avail. He eventually obtained information from a distant relative, and it is believed that suspects associated with that investigation were sent to the Hwasong political prison camp (Camp 16). No one was involved in the trial proceedings, and no one knows of the ruling from the trial.
Since there is no information on whether he is still alive, it is believed that he was sentenced to at least ten years or possibly a life sentence. It is also possible that he has already died inside the prison.
Following such events, Kim Dong-nam’s wife was placed under constant SSD surveillance, and neighbors reported all of her actions and activities. According to Kim Dong-nam’s acquaintance, an SSD officer in Hoeryong City said that all individuals related to Pastor Im’s case were sent to Hwasong political prison camp. Kim Dong-nam believes that his son will never be released, and that his son was sent to the camp after one year of investigations. There is the possibility of a trial and the provision of a public defender in cases of economic crimes, but trial proceedings and legal counsel are entirely omitted for political crimes.
Cha Dong-seong, who helped Kim’s son enter China, was sent to a kyo-hwa-so, since Cha had not visited China and had not met the Pastor.
Kim Dong-nam’s wife escaped North Korea in 2010. Since then, Kim has asked organizations involved in North Korean human rights and international institutions, including the UN, to help confirm whether his son is still alive.
Ordinary North Koreans do not make strong demands to the SSD to provide information about a family member’s arrest and investigation, or even about whether the family member is alive. This is because of the SSD’s brutal violence. They are afraid that other family members will suffer or be sent to political prison camps if they raise a complaint with the authorities. There is no freedom of expression in North Korea, but it is especially difficult to express one’s opinion when a family member is involved in political crimes. This is because anyone who expresses such an opinion could suffer an even greater cost, along with other remaining family members.