TESTIMONY: Park Seong-ok
Park Seong-ok lived in China after escaping from North Korea in January 2007. On July 13, 2007, Park was arrested by Chinese police as she was crossing the Chinese-Mongolian border in Inner Mongolia to go to South Korea. Yoo Sang-joon, the broker who was guiding Park, provided news of the arrest three days later. Seven others who were with Park as they crossed the border were also arrested.
In November 2007, Park contacted her mother, Jeong Chae-soon, through an acquaintance while inside the prison in Tumen, China. A Chinese woman who had been in the same cell as Park was released, and this woman told Jeong in a phone call that Park and others who were arrested with her would all be repatriated to North Korea.
In November 2007, a police officer at the prison in Tumen informed Jeong about her daughter. Jeong was living in China at the time. Jeong had escaped North Korea with her daughter and was living in China as refugees and had decided to send her daughter to South Korea. Because Jeong also had a son in North Korea, she had planned to earn money in China and return to North Korea.
In December 2007, Park and others who were arrested with her were repatriated to North Korea through the Namyang Customs Office in Onseong County, North Hamgyong Province. They were sent to Namyang SSD before being transferred to Onseong SSD. Jeong sought to visit her daughter through an acquaintance in North Korea. This acquaintance went to Onseong SSD and bribed an SSD officer. In January 2008, Park was sent to Hoeryong City SSD, since her original residence was in Hoeryong. Jeong was able to see her daughter due to her acquaintance’s efforts. During the SSD investigation, Park’s escape was not deemed to be of a political nature. Park was then transferred to the Kang-an police station in Hoeryong. Once the police investigation at Kang-an was complete, Park could be released after serving a sentence of forced labor at a kyo-hwa-so or ro-dong-dan-ryeon-dae.
However, in January 2008, only a week after being transferred to the Kang-an police station, Park was returned to Hoeryong City SSD. Jeong believes that her daughter was detained again as a political prisoner by the SSD because one of the people who was arrested with her divulged their intent to go to South Korea. Once again, Jeong made efforts to visit her daughter by bribing the SSD through her acquaintances, but further visits were not permitted.
In August 2008, Jeong received a call from her son in North Korea. Hoeryong City SSD had asked him to bring shoes, clothing, and food for Park, and Park’s younger brother gave these items to the SSD. He asked to see his sister when he went to hand over these items, but the SSD did not permit a visitation. He told his mother that his sister would likely be sent to a political prison camp once the SSD investigation was over. He did not know, however, where she would be sent or how severe the sentence was. Park was investigated by Hoeryong City SSD for 7 to 8 months before receiving a trial, but none of this can be definitively confirmed.
Jeong arrived in South Korea in October 2008. Her son is still in North Korea. She attempted to bring him to South Korea, but he refused because he was fearful from having seen his sister sent to a political prison camp because of a failed attempt to go to South Korea. According to Yoo Sang-joon, the guide, two individuals who were forcibly repatriated and arrested with Park completed a three-year sentence at a kyo-hwa-so and have since successfully escaped to South Korea. Jeong believes that her daughter was sent to a political
prison camp not because of staying in China after escaping from North Korea, but because there was an intent to go to South Korea. It is also possible that the authorities learned of Jeong and Park’s church attendance during their stay in China. However, no definitive information is available about the trial proceedings, the content of the trial, or the sentence that Park received. Jeong’s relatives in North Korea also do not know which political prison camp her daughter was sent to. There are only rumors that she was sent to Susong kyo-hwa- so following the SSD investigation. Jeong’s family members and relatives, as well as her acquaintances, are afraid to demand information from the authorities for fear of being associated with a political crime.