Activists protest North Korean conditions

Student activists drop dead on the south side of the Union on Monday. They played dead for 10 minutes to raise awareness of North Korean issues and recruit supporters for the Liberty Live Tour on Wednesday. Emily Hopkins

Student activists “drop dead” on the south side of the Union on Monday. They played dead for 10 minutes to raise awareness of North Korean issues and recruit supporters for the Liberty Live Tour on Wednesday. Emily Hopkins

By Grace R. Kenney

In the Tuesday, Sept. 30 edition of The Daily Illini, in an article titled “Activists protest inhumane conditions in North Korea,” it was misreported that Josh Seiter is the president of a group called Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers.

Seiter is actually the president of a group called Freethinkers.

The Daily Illini regrets the error.

About 30 black-and-blue-clad North Korean activists were seen ‘dropping dead’ in the area right behind the Illini Union around noon Monday.

John Kim, senior in LAS and president of the Jayou Initiative, a registered student organization focusing on North Korean freedom, said the demonstration is part of Liberty Live 2008, a tour held by Liberty in North Korea, a human rights group.

All of the activists were University students. Most simultaneously dropped to the ground, while others carried informational posters on the human rights violations in North Korea.

“The goal of this tour is to spread nationwide awareness on what’s going on in North Korea,” Kim said.

Lisa Wong, senior in LAS and demonstrator, said she participated because she felt it was for an important cause.

“I feel like people don’t really know about the refugees in North Korea so I feel like this demonstration will help get the news out there,” Wong said.

Kim said most people tend to think of very stereotypical things when it comes to North Korea, like a “crazy man with a crazy hairstyle, nuclear weapons.”

“But there’s a completely different facet of what happens in this totalitarian and authoritarian regime that is often overlooked. The situation has hardly changed in the past decade,” Kim said.

He added there has been a perpetual state of famine, lack of quality education and complete loyalty to the state. He said any kind of expression of political dissonance is considered a criminal charge and can lead to concentration camps.

Soo Hyun Jang is a University alum and professor from Kwangwoon University in South Korea. He said many Korean refugees flee to China where they hope to find a better living situation. However, it is quite different from their expectations.

Jang said many North Koreans are living as street beggars, most suffering from prejudice and abuse at the workplace. Often times, North Korean workers in China do not even get paid. Their bosses use their illegal status as a means of exploiting them and then report them to the authorities. They are then sent back to North Korea to be punished.

Despite this, others believe North Koreans have the right to pursue their own lifestyle, and the U.S. should be cautious in the way they interact with the country.

“One thing I’m really worried about is that we make a false representation of a certain country,” said Jin Heon Jung, a doctoral student who has been to North Korea. “I’d like to suggest that we show the diverse perspectives.”

Jung said Americans are overexposed to photos of malnourished children and rarely to those who smile, work hard and are proud of their country. Although the urgent issues are human rights and nuclear weapons, it is important to acknowledge that North Koreans are humans too.

“We should try to avoid a certain bias-making process,” he said. “In a broader process and through the events and activities, I hope that we can think about liberty, freedom, peace and a bright future for our next generation.”

Josh Seiter, president of Atheists, Agnostics and Freethinkers and senior in LAS, said there are many ways to raise awareness at the University.

“Get it into people’s minds,” he said. “Students definitely have a pulpit being at a university, and people tend to listen to them, whether it’s doing fundraisers to help the refugees, getting on a megaphone or doing a little march through campus.”

Gabriel Enriquez, sophomore in LAS, witnessed the demonstration as he walked by the area.

“I would like to see the ideas behind this, and who made it up, and what’s going on in North Korea,” he said.

The activists will be ‘dropping dead’ once more Tuesday at 11:50 a.m. The Liberty Live Tour 2008 will be held at the Courtyard Cafe in the Union on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.