Ae-ran was born in Pyongyang and spent her teenage years in captivity in a North Korean work camp.
She tells a standing room only crowd in the Seattle area about the beatings and starvation she endured. She escaped and defected to South Korea, where she started up a successful health and culinary institute for women like her. She was honored by the U.S. State Department in 2010 with an International Women of Courage Award, standing beside Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.
She fought back tears reflecting on the story and is using it now as a driving force to prompt change in her native country. A packed house listened closely to her every word.
Ae-ran is expected to pass through multiple U.S. cities before returning to Seoul where she now lives. Ae-ran says she’s been prompted to speak out after the death of American Otto Warmbier after he was held in captivity in North Korea. “I do believe the North Korean government killed him,” she said through a translator Tuesday, and that she was surprised the death didn’t gather more attention in the United States.
In fact, Ae-ran says she thinks Kim Jong Un’s weapons testing is par for the course. “He’s trying to make people fear him,” she said, “by using nuclear weapons, and long distance missiles to make people around the world be afraid of him.” In fact, she says, it’s how he stays in power.
She added that in her belief there is only one solution for peace on the Korean Peninsula. “The answer for that, it’s very direct,” she said. “We need to remove Kim Jong Un and free the North Korean people.”