US Vice President Mike Pence, who travelled to Pyeongchang last week for the start of the Winter Olympic Games, met with North Korean defectors in Seoul on Friday (9 February), as reported on the White House website.
Mr. Pence has been accompanied during his visit by the father of the American student Otto Warmbier, who was detained in North Korea after trying to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel, and died shortly after being reunited with his family last year.
The Vice President in his opening speech mentioned to those present that “100,000 North Koreans today labour in modern-day gulags” and talked about North Korean children who “face malnourishment and deprivation”.
Hyeon-a, a Christian defector who fled North Korea in 2007 at her fourth attempt, told about her ordeal of having been trafficked by a human trafficker, sent home and tortured in a prison camp.
Another defector, Hyesook, who managed to flee North Korea at her second attempt in 2009, said she had spent 28 years in political prison but didn’t know why she was detained. Another North Korean, Hyeon-so, described life as a North Korean defector as “arduous” and called on the media not to focus on the participation of her country in the Olympic Games, but instead on “the millions of North Korean people who are struggling to survive in this extremely cold winter in the north”.
Another defector, Ji Seong-ho, told those present that he had been repatriated after fleeing North Korea for the first time, and was “severely tortured” because, as a disabled person, he was considered to be disgracing North Korea’s leader.
Mike Pence paid tribute to the defectors, saying: “… As these people and their lives have testified, it is a regime that imprisons, tortures, and impoverishes its citizens. And I can assure you that your witness of that truth today will be heard across the world.”
Otto Warmbier’s father, Fred, said he was proud to be there with them: “I’m so proud of you. And your strength, it’s… I really appreciate that. It’s hard — evil is hard to accept. And I’ve experienced evil, and you have too. And I just feel so much love and warmth for you all.”