In Tokyo, North Korean defectors call Kim Jong-un to account

(Tokyo) North Korean defectors symbolically put leader Kim Jong-un on the dock Thursday in Tokyo to hold him accountable for a former repatriation program from Japan, described as “state kidnapping”.

This unusual court case seeks to hold the Pyongyang government responsible for a controversial program that saw more than 90,000 people leave Japan for North Korea between 1959 and 1984.

This program mainly targeted Koreans living in the Japanese archipelago, but also their Japanese spouses, attracted by propaganda promising “heaven on earth” in Communist North Korea.

Five participants in the repatriation program who subsequently escaped from the North are each claiming 100 million yen (CAN $ 1.1 million) in damages and presented their case on Thursday in a Tokyo court.

They accuse Pyongyang of having “deceived the plaintiffs by false advertising into relocating them to North Korea” and of having “forced them to live in conditions where the enjoyment of human rights was generally impossible”.

As there is no diplomatic relationship between Japan and North Korea, Kim Jong-un is symbolically judged as head of government in Pyongyang.

“We do not expect North Korea to accept a ruling or pay damages,” Kenji Fukuda, plaintiffs’ attorney, said at a press briefing last month. “But we hope the Japanese government will be able to negotiate with North Korea” if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs.

“Maybe starved”

A total of 93,340 people took part in the repatriation program funded by Pyongyang and carried out by Red Cross associations in Japan and North Korea. The Japanese government also supported this plan, denounced by its detractors as a way for Tokyo to reduce the number of Koreans living in Japan.

Mr. Fukuda said the plaintiffs viewed the North Korean government as “the most responsible entity in the organization.”

Part of the defectors’ complaint concerns the separation from their families, still stranded in North Korea. “I don’t know what happened to my family. Maybe the coronavirus affected them, maybe some of them starved to death, ”Eiko Kawasaki, one of the complainants, said in September.

“The plaintiffs have the desire to save those who live and still suffer in North Korea,” Hiroaki Saeki, head of a group supporting defectors who participated in the program, told AFP on Thursday.

During the colonization of the Korean peninsula by Tokyo between 1910 and 1945, millions of Koreans left for Japan, either voluntarily or against their will. When Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans remained, reluctant to return to their devastated country.

They were stripped of their Japanese nationality and became stateless. Many of them believed in the propaganda films depicting an idyllic life in North Korea, with free health and education systems, guaranteed jobs and housing. But the real situation was very different, dominated by poverty and famine.

The plaintiffs began their proceedings in 2018. A date must be set Thursday for the judgment.

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