There is a growing movement in South Korea calling for the freeing of the ‘Daughter of Tongyeong’, Shin Suk Ja, and her daughters, all of whom have been detained in North Korea since 1987.
In 1985, Shin followed her husband, South Korean citizen Oh Gil Nam, to North Korea. But after finding out what life was really like in North Korea, Shin told her husband to run away, leaving behind her two daughters and herself despite knowing they would end up in North Korea’s prison camp system.
Shin followed her husband to North Korea after he was sucked in by North Korean agents’ promises of a better life, but when he was tasked with pursuading other exchange students to come to the country, Shin’s conscience had had enough. She told her husband not to engage in the activity and escape.
The ‘Save Shin Sook Ja Movement’ was started by a North Korea human rights group, SAGE Korea. The group runs an exhibition in Shin’s hometown, Tongyeong, which outlines the details of their disappearance into North Korea and campaigns for their freedom.
The movement, spearheaded by Minister Bong Soo Yul of Hyundai Church in Tongyeong, already had 25,000 signatures on a petition by the middle of this month, but since the movement began to gather steam it has broken70,000. Even the Governor of Gyeonggi-do, Kim Moon Soo has shown an interest in the issue by signing the petition.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea also plans a debate on the Free Shin Suk Ja Movement on October 5th to publicize the plight of both Shin and her daughters, and the North Korean prison camps in general.
The movement is also gaining momentum amongst the students of Handong and Masan universities, the latter being Shin’s alma mater. Some of these university students have already put together a plan to develop a real-life gulag experience, and when Oh Gil Nam visited Masan University on the 22nd, many crowded around to look at photos of Oh’s wife and two daughters, Hye Won and Gyu Won, vowing to help free them.
Thanks to the testimony of defectors it is known that Shin and her two girls were still alive as of the late 1990s. Ten years have passed since then and no such reassurances about their lives can be made, but there is still hope. For that reason, the movement is not about justice or what is right but still it is about saving lives.
A similar movement to this one prospered in Japan in the 1990s, where the name in question was Megumi Yokota. From regional to central government, various committees and all levels of society participated to save Megumi. As a result, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met Kim Jong Il, and while Kim said Megumi had died, other kidnapping victims were allowed to leave.
Japan’s policy on North Korea gained clarity as a result. It led the Japanese public to understand the criminal nature of the North Korean regime. It now seems that the Save Shin Suk Ja Movement has the potential to play the same role in South Korea.