WASHINGTON – North Korea Freedom Week kicked off Saturday with demonstrations at Chinese embassies around the world protesting the repatriation of North Korean refugees.
Demonstrations against China's policy on North Korean refugees were staged in six U.S. cities and around the world including South Korea and Japan as the Olympic torch passed through those nations. U.S. cities where protests were held included Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington.
"The North Korean people are the most persecuted in the world," says Suzanne Scholte, chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, "But, because we cannot see the suffering with our own eyes, we ignore it. Having these brave defectors speak and give eyewitness testimony is one of the most critical aspects of North Korea Freedom Week."
Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have crossed the North Korea-China border, with more than 10,000 North Koreans now residing in South Korea, and an estimated 40,000 North Koreans living in other countries such as China. At least 500,000 North Koreans are believed to have crossed the border over to China in the past 10 years.
North Korean refugees are officially considered illegal economic migrants by the Chinese government and therefore receive no legal protection in China. They are harshly treated before being deported to North Korea despite the fact that the U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korea declared North Koreans who flee to China as "refugees."
Back in North Korea, the repatriated refugee faces imprisonment, torture and sometimes execution for leaving the country – a state crime.
North Korea is one of the most repressive regimes in the world and is ranked by the watchdog group Open Doors as the world's worst persecutor of Christians. Citizens of the communist state are forced to adhere to a personality cult that revolves around worshipping current dictator Kim Jong Il and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung.
Organizations that have been involved in NKFW include: Open Doors, Peterson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, PSALT, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and its Task Force on Religious Freedom, the Korean American Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom, and the Defense Forum Foundation.
On Tuesday, a Capitol Hill Rally will take place that will feature music by the Pyongyang Musical Mission Troupe, members of Congress, NGO leaders, and North Korean defectors. Then on Thursday, a press conference with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) will be held.
North Korea Freedom Week events will run from April 26 through May 3.