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Washington rally on rights issues in N. Korea
Court Pearman

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WASHINGTON D.C. - April 28 was officially declared North Korea Freedom Day by the North Korean Freedom Coalition. The bipartisan coalition, comprising mostly Christian organizations, held a rally to bring the human rights violations inside North Korea into the spotlight.

This was the largest North Korean rally to date, and the largest gathering of North Korean defectors ever in the United States. The focus was public awareness, and gaining support for the North Korean Human Rights Act, which will soon be voted upon in Congress. The bill was led by U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, and Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. Reps. Joe Pitts, Trent Franks Ed Royce co-sponsored the bill and spoke at the rally. Other guests included speakers from various American, South Korean and Japanese non-governmental organizations, members of the State Department and members of the clergy.

Suzanne Sholte, chairwoman of North Korea Freedom Day, and president of the Defense Forum Foundation stated: “This [rally] is a watershed. There were over 1,000 participants; every single event throughout the day was packed. This is a turning point.”

The rally displayed on tables, laid out in the grass and worn on the bodies of demonstrators photos smuggled out of North Korea and China that revealed refugees whose physiques compared to the living skeletons in the photos of Nazi concentration camps. North Korean defectors lined up on stage wearing sashes with Korean character messages of freedom, while students from such schools as Yale,\ and Cornell Universities involved in the Liberty Initiative for North Korea lined up in front of the stage with chains and photos of victims.

The rally began with a prayer, followed by congressional speakers. Pennsylvania Republic Rep. Joseph Pitts spoke on behalf of the victims who continue to suffer “at the hands of a cruel tyrant; enduring forced abortion, torture and death.” He commented on female North Korean refugees who are sold as sex slaves and wives inside China, and said the man responsible for all of these atrocities, North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, “believes he is a god. … He has a rude awakening coming.”

Rep. Franks related the story of a boy who had to use his own food as bait to attract rats, so that he could kill them for meat and use the skins as a blanket The North Korean defectors present at the rally testified -- first on stage in public at the rally, then at a congressional hearing later in the day -- as eye witnesses to the horrors of the camps inside North Korea.

Victims testified and were questioned at the hearing on six major points of interest:

* Kim Jong Il’s “Cult of Personality.” The North Korean leader is reported to have created a state religion, which brainwashes citizens to worship him.

* The Information blockade in which citizens all have TVs and radios programmed by the government. Citizens who tamper with media equipment face penalties as severe as death.

* Chemical and biological weapons and gas. Eyewitnesses reported use of poisonous gas on citizens; congress is concerned that Kim’s regime may sell weapons to terrorists such as al-Qaida.

* Concentration camps for political prisoners. People who do as little as listen to a non-government radio station are reported to be detained in concentration camps to suffer torture and starvation.

* The abuse of women. Eyewitnesses testified that Kim Jong Il uses women in rituals and ceremonies to honor himself, and subjects the women to abuse and rape.

* China’s treatment of the North Korean refugees. China works closely with North Korea to patrol boarders and return defectors, and condones the sex trade of North Korean women who cross into China, despite signing agreements with the United Nations to treat refugees fairly.

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