North Korean refugees are speaking up about the sudden death of Kim Jong-il.
Hoping to provide a voice to the voiceless, Liberty in North Korea, a grassroots organization that works to redefine the North Korea crisis and provide emergency relief to refugees, contacted those who recently left the country, asking for their comments on the current situation.
They noted in an email that the North Korean refugees were not necessarily representative of the general population because the majority came from border regions, causing their views to be different from those living in Pyongyang or elsewhere.
The refugees, however, still had invaluable insight into the leadership and the people living within the country to provide an accurate response.
(The names of the refugees were changed to protect their identities and ensure the security of relatives still living inside North Korea.)
Shin Jong-wook, a 20-year-old male told the organization that the North Korean people would currently be putting on “feigned shows of sadness.”
“This is very different to the death of Kim Il-sung. Kim Il-sung founded the country and the people think that he did a lot for them,” he explained.
“Times have been hard during Kim Jong-il’s reign. People have woke up and are much more aware of the reality of the country and the leadership now. People will outwardly be showing sadness but inwardly they will feel very differently. The people fear that anything but the required show of sadness could get them killed...the most likely outcome of the succession is that Kim Jong-un will continue in the same mold as his father.”
Kim Jong-il reportedly died Saturday of an apparent heart attack. He was 69. North Korea’s state television announced the dictator’s death on Monday.
Kim Moon-soo commented, “This is not a happy or a sad event for me. But it is a big moment.” He too felt that people would pretend to be in grief over the sudden death of the leader.
“This will be a shocking moment for the North Korean people. But there will not be as much grief as when Kim Il-sung died. Of course, people will have to pretend to be sad, and people may get caught up in the atmosphere, but it is not true sadness.”
Nam Gum-sook and Kang Bohee also had the same response.
“In North Korea now, the norm dictates that everyone has to cry,” Nam told LiNK. “But people don’t have any positive feelings towards Kim Jong-il. The majority of people will be faking their tears.”
“If you don’t cry in North Korea after the leader dies, then you come under suspicion as being against the Government,” Kang stated. “Then you have to live with that label and suspicion for the rest of your life.”
Other refugees worried about what the sudden death and change in leadership would mean for their family. Kim Jong-il’s third son, Kim Jong-un, 27, has been named the successor.
Park Yun-joo, a 31-year-old female, fears relatives of North Korean defectors will suffer more persecution.
“They are closing the markets and there are bound to be a lot of staged political events, so for the people that are already struggling, things are going to get even harder.”
Though Lee Sunghee didn’t feel anything in particular when she heard the news of Kim’s death, she did worry about her family who she believed might suffer from the change.
Prior to Kim Jong-il’s death, LiNK had discussed the succession with a few refugees living in their shelter in Southeast Asia, a temporary place of residence for many North Korean refugees who had escaped into China.
One person revealed that North Koreans believe that if Kim Jong-un took over, he would be even worse than his father.
“How could you think it is a good thing? The Government is not providing the people with any kind of standard of living,” another said, according to LiNK.
“The North Korean people just hope to live in freedom and to live well,” one refugee noted.
Despite their apprehensions, the people of North Korea have been told to unite behind Kim Jong-un, a mandate they believe they must follow in order to survive.
North Korea’s state-run news agency, KCNA, announced after the death of Kim Jong-il, “All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public.”
North Korea is considered the world's most closed country. It is also ranked as the world's worst persecutor of Christians, according to Open Doors USA.