How do you escape North Korea? The exclusive interview with a man who succeeded

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If you are born in North Korea, you cannot leave the country or travel abroad. North Korea, in fact, is probably the Most isolated country in the worldruled through the totalitarian dictatorship of Kim Jong Un and, before him, his father and his grandfather. To understand what it really means live in North Koreawhat are its rules and how you can succeed escape the countrywe interviewed one of the few thousand people who, over the decades, have managed to escape from North Korea. It’s about Timothy Cho, a 35-year-old North Korean human rights activist who twice fled North Korea and now lives in the UK. Below you will find the translated transcript of an excerpt from the interview, which you can see in full in the video above.

Alexander: “Timothy, how come people can’t leave North Korea?”

Timothy: «People don’t have passports; they don’t know what a passport is. And travel between towns, cities and provinces in North Korea is not permitted without a permit and travel documents issued by the authorities. Leaving or escaping to another country, in and of itself, is an act of terrorism. This is why the UN Geneva Convention granted North Koreans the right to asylum as political, religious and economic refugees. China obviously doesn’t follow these rules: it arrests the fugitives and sends them back to North Korea.

From this perspective, North Koreans know that crossing the border means risking their lives. Many fugitives are arrested and put in prison or gulags or executed. Furthermore, the families of those who run away are labeled as “traitors” for the next three generations and are discriminated against by society.

The system is that of a prison society: you cannot express yourself and you cannot freely choose what you want to wear, your haircut, the type of shoes, your clothes.”

Alexander: «How much do North Koreans know about the outside world, about other countries?».

Timothy: «Information from abroad is completely blocked. Only a few contraband items make it into North Korea: this is the reason why some human rights groups smuggle USB sticks containing news, films, photographs and books from outside. The authorities, however, know who to control, who must be observed. The system itself is designed to self-control: whoever is behind me looks at me, the same as whoever is next to me, I look at the one in front.

People often ask me, “Why was North Korea never able to rebel against this authoritarian regime?” The fact is that in a country like North Korea, information is completely blocked: no telephones, no internet, no Facebook.”

Alexander: «Timothy, how is the Kim family viewed and how is Kim Jong-un viewed in the country?».

Timothy: «When Kim Il-sung (Kim Jong-un’s grandfather) died, I cried. I went to school and everyone looked grieving and sad. I still remember the atmosphere: the country was in tears and it was the rainy season and it was raining and on the news they said: “even the sky is very sad because our god is dead”. And I really thought he was our god. And I asked my father, “What will we do now? He is dead. Our god is dead. Will we die too?” And my father said, “no, he will live in our hearts forever. He IS our eternal leader.” And he also told me that we would follow the second Kim. The third Kim now rules.

The Kim dynasty has created a mythical history about itself. In school most of the time was spent memorizing the Kim family biography. Furthermore, in elementary school, high school, university, in factories, everywhere, inside the rooms there are pictures of the three leaders on the walls. And there are about 50,000 monuments of the Kim family around and you have to bow before the statues.”

Warning: the rest of the interview and the story of Timothy’s escape are in the video above.