Brainwashed from birth in North Korea


Yeonmi Park tells One Young World Summit the harrowing story of life in North Korea and her escape.

An emotional Yeonmi Park speaks at the One Young World Summit in Dublin

An emotional Yeonmi Park speaks at the One Young World Summit in Dublin

“North Korea is an unimaginable country. There’s only one channel on TV. There’s no Internet. We aren’t free to move, sing, read, wear or think what we want,” – Yeonmi Park

Yeonmi Park is a 21 year old woman with a story; a story of corruption, devastation, execution, and repatriation.

Growing up during Kim Jong Il’s dictatorship in North Korea, Park knew nothing of the normal life that children in the Western world take for granted. She admits that growing up in Hyesen, a city separated from China by the Paektu Mountains, she was brainwashed to the point that she felt the North Korean ruler could see into her mind.

“When I was four years old, I was warned by my mother not to even whisper – the birds and mice could hear me. I admit it: I thought the dictator could read my mind,” said Park.

“When I was growing up in North Korea, I never saw anything about love stories between men and women. No books, no songs, no press, no movies about love stories. There is no Romeo and Juliet,” she continued.

Park, who was speaking at the One Young World Summit at Dublin’s Convention Centre on Saturday, was one of few North Koreans to escape the dictatorial reign of Kim Jong Il and flee the country with her mother. The task was far from simple, with Park visibly torn on the stage, detailing the traumatising episodes that preceded her escape.

“When I was 9 years old, I saw my friend’s mother publicly executed. Her crime? Watching a Hollywood movie. Expressing doubt about the greatness of the regime can get three generations of a family imprisoned or executed,” said Park.

The repressive control imposed by the Kim Jong Il regime and carried on by Kim Jong Un, son of Jong Il, ensures that there are brutal consequences for anybody who tries make contact with the outside world.

“North Korea is the only country in the world that executes people for making unauthorized international phone calls,” Park explained.

Park finally fled the country aged 13 with her mother, in an attempt to find her sister, who had successfully escaped shortly before.

In the process of reaching the border, Park and her mother crossed the Paektu Mountains, the Gobi Desert and the Duman River, which was totally frozen, with the pair knowing that the ice could crack at any second.

“The day I escaped North Korea, I saw my mother raped. The rapist was a Chinese broker. I will never forget his face. The rapist had targeted me. I was only 13 years old,” said Park, to an audience teary eyed in disbelief.

Park has successfully avoided repatriation to North Korea, and is using her story to spread the word about terrorism imposed on people in her homeland. She is adamant other countries need to step-up and support her fellow citizens.

“When it comes to human rights, North Korea and China are both criminals. We need governments around the world to put more pressure on China, not to stand by or support the North Korean regime by sending refugees back,” Park insisted.

“When I was crossing the Gobi desert, scared of dying, I thought nobody in this world cared. It seemed that only the stars were with me. But you have listened to my story. I know that you are with me as we free North Koreans.,” Park concluded in tears as she received a three minute standing ovation from 1,200 One Young World delegates.


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