North Korea’s dictatorial regime once again astonishes the world as an American missionary who was detained for two months inside the reclusive country revealed to Western media sources that his interrogators repeatedly sexually assaulted him. Robert Park, an American evangelical missionary of Korean descent, was released from detainment in North Korea last February. After his release, Mr. Park struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and attempted suicide several times, saved from this fate when his friends committed him to a hospital.
Recalling his horrific ordeal, Park, 29, can’t bear to mention the specifics of what was done to him, saying “The scars and wounds of the things that happened to me in North Korea are too intense.” According to a New York Times article written by journalist Mark McDonald on Wednesday, October 27, “Activist Tells of Torture in North Korean Prison”, Mr. Park told South Korean TV broadcaster KBS that the extremity of the tortures he suffered prevented him from talking about it. “As a result of what happened to me in North Korea, I’ve thrown away any kind of personal desire. I will never, you know, be able to have a marriage or any kind of relationship.”
While Mr. Park’s story is appalling in its own right, what is especially disturbing is that defectors from North Korea have been informing Western news media that such treatment of foreign missionaries or journalists is becoming the rule, not the exception. According to Kang Chol-hwan, who defected from the North in 1992 after serving a decade-long prison sentence in the North Korean Yodok concentration camp, sexual attacks have become the “preferred interrogation tool” of North Korean security agents.
Western media outlets were confused as to why Mr. Park was treated so horrendously, while according to AOL News, fellow American missionary Aijalon Gomes, who crossed into North Korea in January 2010 and was released in August, suffered no such tortures. South Korean analysts pointed out that Mr. Park carried with him into North Korea not only a Bible, but also a letter urging the country’s dictator, Kim Jong Il, to free the estimated 154,000 political prisoners held in brutal prison labor camps, and relinquish power. Such an affront to the dignity of the ailing man who is called the “Dear Leader” usually carries the death penalty in the country.
Mr. Park eventually broke down under the constant tortures, and read a written confession on North Korean state television in February admitting that he had wrongfully entered the country because “Western propaganda” had convinced him that religious freedom did not exist in the country. Religious freedom does not exist in the country: the regime regularly imprisons or executes Christians for practicing their faith, and proselytizing of any kind is forbidden. The atheistic regime in Pyongyang sees Christianity as a Western threat to its iron grip over the North Korean people.
After Mr. Park’s televised confession, according to the Times article, North Korean official news agency KCNA reported that officials “decided to leniently forgive and release him, taking his admission and sincere repentance of his wrongdoings into consideration.” Mr. Park was released at the border and flown to Seoul, where the Associated Press interviewed him about his ordeal. Looking thin and gaunt, Mr. Park told the harrowing story of his ordeal to Western media for the first time.
He is one of the few victims of the regime’s sexual assault interrogation tactics to have come forward and public discuss their ordeal. We can only hope that the UN strongly condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime in continuing these despicable, unwarranted, and unjustified acts that clearly are an affront to basic human rights.