Arts & Culture / Mosaic / April 13, 2011

LiNK to North Korea

Imagine yourself living in a place where there is no freedom. This is what Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) asked of an almost-full room in order to depict what life is like in a country like North Korea and why many of its people flee the oppressed country. Korean Club hosted a screening of the grassroots organization’s film entitled “Hiding,” a documentary about a rescue mission headed by Justin Wheeler, Vice President of LiNK, to find five North Korean refugees hiding in China and get them safely out of the country before they’re caught.

President of Korean Club and junior Joyce Lee heard of LiNK through some of her friends from other schools. She said, “We wanted to do something that would cause the campus to be more aware of an issue in the world, and because it was North Korea, we thought it would be fitting.”

LiNK’s rescue mission began in the summer of 2010, with Wheeler as narrator, commenting on the plight of North Koreans, “Though our blood is the same color, our lives are worlds apart.” He said that the documentary would be the untold story of a “totalitarian nightmare” and the “darkest country on the planet,” that is North Korea.

The government of North Korea is able to keep control of its citizens through repressing them and not allowing anything to exist outside the jurisdiction of its government. After saying that North Korea is able to do this through propaganda and national symbols, images of malnourished children flashed on screen and an audience member audibly winced. The North Korean government controls what its people wear and how much they eat, and those who rebel against the rule of the government are sent to concentration camps along with their entire families.

Many escape in order to find food and clothing, their survival depending on the perilous crossing of the border into China. Even after leaving North Korea, refugees are not safe because the Chinese police could capture them and send them back to North Korea (due to its Friendship Treaty with North Korea), causing refugees to stay in hiding.

Junior Brandon Paraharm said, “[Refugees] go to other countries and they’re still mandated to be returned back to North Korea. It’s kind of like the Fugitive Slave Act, and that’s the part that hit me the most.”

Lee said, “I was talking to some Chinese students after the screening, and at least one of them felt that it was unfair that the documentary portrayed the [Chinese] government in that way.”

Wheeler’s mission of rescuing five North Korean refugees was part of LiNK’s goal to rescue 100. He had the help of Mr. Lee, an ex-spy for the North Korean government who defected after learning of the freedom outside his country. After finding refugees hiding in China, they had to get out of the country without being caught and into Southeast Asia, where they will then go to countries like South Korea and the United States. If Wheeler was caught, he would be put in prison for three years. If the North Korean refugees were caught, they could be executed after returning to the country.

There were moments of panic throughout the film, one of which included Wheeler being separated from the five refugees after they left China. But after all their turmoil, all the refugees were relocated and safe in South Korea and the United States.

Public Relations representative of Korean Club junior Lena Brandis said, “I hope people found [the film screening] informative. Even if they don’t become nomads [LiNK representatives] or if they don’t donate or anything, that they take what they know and they pass it by word of mouth so that people know more about North Korea than just what we know about nuclear weapons.”

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Sheena Leano

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