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Monday, January 19, 2004

(chapkôttûl) Kang Yong-ju passes the med exam

(Yonhap, through Media Daum) Kang Yong-ju, who served for a long time as a very young guy and was released byan amnesty in early 1999, has passed the national medical exam. The reason for this note is that I got to meet this guy in 1999 when I was staying in Korea and assisting (being a fixer for) a Finnish newspaper which was doing reports on him. And the reason for the reports was that Amnesty International had made him one of the main targets in its campaigning for prisoners of conscience, which ultimately led to his release, without the condition of "law-obeying pledge" (준법서약서­), which he had refused to sign. By my judgement, he was not the government-toppling revolutionary he was convicted of (for 16 years, of which he served some 10+), but he is still under authorities' surveillance. He did take part in student activities in Kwangju in the mid 1980s, and he did meet someone who really had been in contact with the DPRK, which was enough to have him made a spy and accomplice in the so-called Europe-America student spy incident (Ku-Mi yuhaksaeng kanch'ôp sakôn). (In May 1980 at the age of 17, he was a member of the citizen guard in Kwangju; in some text he wrote how he has regretted his desertion from the ranks of Provincial Hall defenders before the uprising was suppressed.)
Being present at the prison was a strange experience; I had nothing to do with the released prisoner, I've never been to an occasion like that, and yet the emotion of seeing the man walking down the road towards the gate was such a strong one that I had to fight back the lump in my throat and eyes getting wet.

Photograph: Kang's mother in January 1999
before her son was released. (c) AL 1999.

What is interesting in doing (well, assisting in doing) newspaper reporting like that are all the people one gets to meet along the way. NGO activists; professional and efficient people, who utilize newspapers, whose reporting in turn is made easier with the assistance of the organization.Former DPRK operators living in ROK after being freed from prison; these people had been sent South long time ago, gotten caught and sent to prison, from where they had since been freed for their old age, without denouncing their allegiance to the North. These "non-repentant prisoners" (비전향 장기수) were most likely returned back North in 2000. They were funny old gentlemen, being treated with respect by the activists and addressed as sônsaeng (선생). I remember one proudly telling how he had contributed to the ROK democratization by his struggle in prison, meaning his refusal to denounce the North, if I remember correctly. The old men were hanging around the NGO (or vice versa), which supported their living quarters in Seoul, so that's how I got the meet them.

ROK communists; I'm not sure if this guy can be called a communist, but it may not be entirely wrong for someone who declares himself a Leninist. He was one of the people in the entourage welcoming Kang Yong-ju. We were back in Kwangju from Andong prison, sitting in a drinking place. He asked me what I think about Lenin, telling that he is a Leninist. "Well, nowadays it's know that the Soviet terror started already with Lenin and not with Stalin", I replied; - "No, it was Lenin who gave freedom to nations like Finland and others." I didn't feel like continuing with that topic - it was after all a happy day for them, and I was only working.
NIS; after we finished with Kang, we hurried back to Seoul to interview the actress Kim Hye-yeong, who had escaped (but not for political reasons) from the DPRK with her family in late '98 and was under the protection of NIS at the time. NIS contacted me later and asked me to translate the article, but they were too cheap to pay me, so I missed my chance to work for the ROK intelligence. (They didn't make me an offer I couldn't refuse.)

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