Former political prisoners go home to DPRK

We at the Juche Study Group of Ireland has decided to post this text to make you aware of that the case of Han Sang Ryol is not unique in its case but that anyone in South Korea who may threat the state or not follow state order may be a victim of the South Korean puppet regime and US imperialism.
By Deirdre Griswold

It was one of the most emotional moments in the history of the Korean nation–a nation that has been through so many tragedies and triumphs over the last century. It happened on Sept. 2 at the site of the armistice negotiations where, 47 years earlier, U.S. generals had finally agreed to a cease-fire after three years of ferocious war against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

At exactly 10 a.m., a procession of 63 people passed through the little building that straddles the border between north and south Korea at Panmunjom. Some were in wheelchairs. Others were carried on stretchers. Their ages ranged from 60 to over 90.

These were the long-term political prisoners who had been held in south Korean jails, some ever since the Korean War. They were on their way home to socialist north Korea.

Of the 63 men, 45 had each spent more than 30 years in prison. One holds the world record for political imprisonment – 43 years behind bars, much of it in solitary confinement.

They have known torture, isolation and constant threats.

But they have survived. And not just physically.

They were held for so long because they refused to renounce communism and their loyalty to the DPRK.

At any time, they could have signed a paper and been released into south Korean society. But they refused. They stuck to their principles.

“I sacrificed myself for the cause of the nation divided by foreign powers,” said Yang Jong Ho, who spent 30 years in south Korean prisons. In all that time, Yang had been unable to get any news about his family in the north. Released last year, he was helped by southerners who have formed support groups for the former prisoners.

These courageous south Koreans–also in danger from the repressive National Security Laws that severely punish anyone suspected of sympathizing with the north–find housing for the released prisoners, help with their laundry and their meals, and ease their way back into civilian life.

Devoted to Korea and
the working class

Yang has worked at several jobs since his release. One was in a school kitchen. Asked to comment on life in the south by the Seoul newspaper Korea Times, Yang said he wondered if the women in the cafeteria “receive the proper payment” for their hard work.

Such devotion to the cause of the working class and of Korea’s independence from imperialism has deeply inspired the people of north Korea. They have been struggling through a difficult economic period. Severe shortages of food and fuel started a few years ago, caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the death of their great leader Kim Il Sung, and several years of extreme natural disasters. But they too have survived.

When the former prisoners crossed over the demilitarized zone separating the two halves of Korea, the people gave them a heroes’ welcome. As the motorcade drove north toward the capital of Pyongyang, the roads were lined with Koreans carrying bouquets and waving banners.

In the capital itself, hundreds of thousands celebrated their arrival, shedding tears of joy. Koreans do not hide their emotions.

Every one of the former prisoners had chosen to go to the north, despite intense pressures and inducements to stay. Some had to leave behind family members in the south. One had to say goodbye to his 90-year-old mother.

He doesn’t know when he will be able to see her again, because the south Korean government refused to let family members accompany the released prisoners.

Division of country and families

The division of Korea after World War II tore 10 million families apart. Almost everyone has a relative on the other side.

This state of affairs is so painful and so hated by the people that even right-wing parties in the south that endorse the U.S. military occupation of the country have to give lip service to the cause of reunification.

The return of the long-term political prisoners comes after an unprecedented meeting between north Korean leader Kim Jong Il and south Korean President Kim Dae-jong in Pyongyang in June. The very fact that such a meeting took place undermines south Korea’s National Security Laws. How can the government keep throwing people in prison for visiting the north when the president has gone there?

However, the main cause for Korea’s division is U.S. imperialism. And while Washington claims to support the process of reunification, at the same time it has bolstered its military presence in Korea by carrying out large-scale “war games” aimed at the DPRK and by refusing to make any but cosmetic concessions to the massive movement in the south against U.S. bases.

On Sept. 4 a north Korean delegation, led by head of state Kim Yong Nam, angrily turned back from its planned trip to the United Nations Millennium Summit after being strip-searched by U.S. personnel at a Frankfurt, Germany, airport. While some U.S. officials defended this humiliating procedure, calling the DPRK a “rogue state,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent a letter of apology that was accepted by the Koreans.

Albright has generally been a hawk on foreign policy.

Is Washington just using its old “hard cop, soft cop” tactics with regard to the DPRK, or is there a significant split within the U.S. ruling establishment over the reunification talks?

A split did take place during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, when the U.S. commander in Korea, Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, defied the commander in chief over a proposed reduction in troop strength there. Singlaub was removed, but the reduction, which Carter had promised during his election campaign, never took place. In the end, the Pentagon prevailed in setting foreign policy.

The struggle to aid Korean reunification while preventing U.S. imperialism from creating another neocolony in Asia needs and deserves the support of the progressive movement here. The only time a disagreement over foreign policy in the ruling-class establishment has been resolved in favor of U.S. military withdrawal has been when a militant mass movement demanded it.

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