Here comes the sickening North Korean twist to the tale of Robert Park, the young Christian missionary who walked into North Korea on Christmas Day. An American, of Korean descent, Park crossed over from China, on the frozen Tumen River, reportedly calling out messages of God’s love as he entered North Korea. Park trespassed into North Korea to call attention to the monumental trespass of North Korea’s regime on human rights and decency. He carried a letter asking Kim Jong Il to open his brutal prison camps and free the North Korean people, and he left behind statements and an interview spelling out that he did not want to be ransomed or released until North Korea’s gulag had been opened up, and shut down.
Park was seized by North Korean authorities, and in the six weeks since he offered himself up as a martyr for the cause of freedom in North Korea, his fate has been a mystery. Now, one of the propaganda organs of Pyongyang, the Korean Central News Agency, is offering to enlighten us about Park. According to the KCNA, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has decided to “leniently forgive and release him,” a decision reached by “taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrong doings into consideration.”
This announcement is accompanied by another account from KCNA, claiming that Park has now confessed he was “taken in by the false rumors spread by the West.” According to North Korean authorities, Park has now decided that the horrific reports so richly documented in the West of atrocities, brutality, slave labor and repression in North Korea are all just “false propaganda.” KCNA treats us to an “interview” with Park, in which he is described as saying he’s “very thankful for their love,” and has been convinced that “religious freedom is fully ensured in the DPRK,” that people there can read and believe anything they want, “wherever they want, whenever they want,” and he has “seriously repented.” This account goes on ad nauseum to proclaim that Park, in a complete flip, has come to see that North Korea “respects the rights of all the people and guarantees their freedom and they enjoy a happy and stable life.”
Quite likely the news will now focus on where, how and in what condition Robert Park is released from North Korea — if, indeed, that comes to pass. But that was never the point. We don’t know what Park has been through while he was held incommunicado by the expert torturers and mind-twisters of the world’s most brutal totalitarian state. But he did not go in there asking that the outcome be his own release.
Park walked into North Korea asking that the prison camps be opened, and that the 23 million or so North Korean people be genuinely freed. The test of that is not whether North Korean authorities are able within six weeks to produce their own revision of the man named Robert Park.
The real test is whether Kim Jong Il opens his gulag and lets the political prisoners out and the world’s TV cameras in.
The real test is whether North Koreans are free to communicate with the world, to write what they want, say what they want, read what they want — and whether the world may now communicate freely with them.
The real test is whether North Koreans may freely come and go from their own country without penalty; especially without risking time in brutal labor camps or even the periodic bouts of public execution.
The real test is whether North Koreans are free to pull down the statues and throw out the portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and stock their homes, if they so choose, with bibles, or Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations,” or Czeslaw Milosz’s excellent work on totalitarian double-think, “The Captive Mind,” or George Orwell’s “1984” — or, for that matter, South Korean newspapers and stacks of books, reports and testimony available throughout the free world on the corruption, decadence and atrocities of Kim Jong Il’s regime.
The real test is whether private news outlets can be safely established by North Koreans, in North Korea, and freely allowed to compete with the state’s Korean Central News Agency, to offer more usefully informed accounts of what, precisely, was done with Robert Park between his entry into the country on Christmas Day, and Pyongyang’s announcement that he is now deemed ready for release.
While we wait for these developments, here’s a link to the excellent site of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, where you can browse some of the reports on the prison camps, the horrors faced by North Koreans trying to escape, the hunger, the stunted children, and the waste, agony and deprivation inflicted by the policies of the state which has now so “leniently” decided to share with the world the product of its “interview” with Robert Park.