Arab News Japan
TOKYO: Five plaintiffs of Korean descent are demanding that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pay 500 million yen in damages for “forced repatriation” and broken promises of a good life in the North. The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit – believed to be the first targeting North Korea – on Thursday at Tokyo’s District Court.
In the 1960s, a program encouraging Koreans in Japan to repatriate or emigrate to North Korea was supported by the Association of North Koreans of Japan. The exodus turned into a flood as 93,000 Koreans and Japanese of Korean origin relocated to North Korea, eager to take advantage of promises made by Kim Il Sung’s Korean socialist state.
These included the freedom to return to Japan if they wanted to and the availability of rewarding jobs. The promises turned out to be false and they had to take jobs in fields and mines and some were sent to labor and re-education camps. Some rebelled against the conditions and were executed. Others committed suicide, but even their family members were punished.
Eiko Kawasaki, one of the five plaintiffs who took part in the exodus at the age of 17, told Arab News Japan that she left part of her family in North Korea and she has not heard from her relatives since. She testified to the harsh living conditions in North Korea, saying she had to work in a factory and suffered during the great famine of 1994 in which many of her family members died.
Yoko Sakakibara who left for North Korea in 1961 as a young girl, said she saw both of her parents suffer, especially her father who had mental problems as he could not stand the living conditions of a society without freedom. Sakakibara attempted to kill herself, but eventually managed to escape back to Japan in 2003.
Masami Takamasa said she was brainwashed when she was in North Korea where authorities tricked her into believing the United States would be defeated by North Korea. She began to realize this was untrue and tried to escape. After an initial attempt to escape from North Korea, Takamasa was caught by the authorities and she suffered severe torture before being banished to carry out work in the fields. She finally managed to escape in 2005.
Hiroko Saito said she was conned by the Chongkryon Association in Japan, which made her believe that Korea was a world where one could live without money. She left for North Korea with her daughter and her husband but had to live in an isolated place where infrastructure was lacking and even the water supply was unreliable. In order to survive, she smuggled and stole food in the fields. In 2001, she managed to escape through China and found herself under the protection of the Japanese government.
Manabu Ishikawa said he was also deceived by Chongkryon’s promises into believing that North Korea was heaven on earth. He suffered liver problems in North Korea and his sister died of a psychiatric illness. Ishikawa fled North Korea from the time the great famine began.