The press conference calling for the repatriation of Daily NK researcher Choi Song Min (alias)
from North Korea was held on May 11 at the National Assembly’s Jungron Hall. Image: Daily NK
A press conference drawing attention to the addition of another name to the list of South Korean civilians detained by North Korea was held at the National Assembly’s Jungron Hall on May 11. The press conference included the participation of the family of a North Korean defector, and a tearful reading of a petition to be delivered to South Korean President Moon Jae In.
“They say there are six North Korean defectors being held in North Korea, but there are really seven,” said Bareun Mirae Party representative Ha Tae Keung. “The list should include Choi Song Min (alias), who worked as a journalist for Daily NK and Unification Media Group (UMG).”
Choi worked as a journalist specialising in North Korea at Daily NK from 2011. He is thought to have been abducted by North Korean Ministry of State Security agents in May 2017 while on the North Korea-Chinese border investigating a story.
During the press conference, Choi’s wife said that she “still doesn’t know whether he is alive” and that “all members of our family are waiting tearfully for his return.” She noted that she “was extremely envious of the three Korean-Americans who were returned to the US and met by President Trump and his wife at the airport.”
She further added that “the South Korean government has proclaimed that its diplomacy with North Korea is “people-centered” and “human rights-centered” and so I ask that the government makes an effort to save my husband and any other South Koreans who are suffering unimaginable difficulties at this moment.” She called on the government to “please take my family’s petition to heart.”
“Choi fell out of contact after parting with his Chinese-Korean taxi driver, who accompanied him to Longjing, within the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture on the Chinese side of the North Korea-Chinese border,” said Lee Kwang Baek, President of Daily NK and UMG. “We have an eyewitness account that says Choi was forcibly taken to North Korea between 7:30pm to 8pm after a physical altercation with two people who were believed to have crossed over from North Korea.”
Lee said that CCTV video taken near the area was acquired with the help of Chinese citizens connected with the Chinese police showed one person fighting with two men who crossed over from North Korea, before being forcibly taken over the border. “This information comes from a defector who has links with North Korea’s Ministry of State Security,” he said. “Choi is now being held in an underground prison in the Ministry of State Security’s Pyongyang headquarters, and he was abducted by a security officer he knew back in North Korea.”
Choi’s family explained that Choi’s South Korean security detail had confirmed through the National Intelligence Service that Choi “appeared to be in North Korea.”
Daily NK and Choi’s family officially requested that he be located and returned to South Korea. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies have not been considered active in their efforts, simply telling his family to “wait.”
The UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances was also informed about the situation and the committee asked the North Korean government to confirm whether Choi was detained there.
There was concern, however, that any public reference to efforts focused on his repatriation would negatively affect Choi’s circumstances in North Korea. Such public efforts could worsen his sentence or even lead to his execution, potentially reducing his chances of escaping from North Korea on his own volition. His family requested that efforts to save him be made quietly and Daily NK agreed to do this.
The improvement in inter-Korean relations has raised the possibility that the South Korean government will make greater efforts to repatriate South Koreans detained in the North. Member of the National Assembly Ha Tae Keung publicly mentioned Choi’s case. Daily NK proposed that the change in inter-Korean relations would make it more helpful to call attention to Choi’s case and his wife agreed. For this reason, the press conference was held.
Daily NK demands that Choi be included in any request to North Korea by the South Korean government in regards to the repatriation of South Korean citizens detained in the country. We can only hope Choi and all other illegally detained South Korean citizens can return to their families as quickly as possible.