On 31 January 2015, a North Korean government-run website posted an 18-minute video titled The Human Rights Propaganda Puppet, Yeon-mi Park, which denounced the charismatic 21-year-old North Korean defector. It was the latest attack in a smear campaign aimed at silencing Yeon-mi, a human rights activist and outspoken critic of the world’s most repressive and secretive regime.
Last fall, Yeon-mi took the podium at the One Young World Summit in Dublin, and became a YouTube sensation. Looking like a fragile porcelain doll dressed in a flowing pink hanbok (traditional Korean dress), Yeon-mi told a harrowing and heartbreaking story: “North Korea is an unimaginable country,” she began in halting English. … When she was nine years old she saw her friend’s mother publicly executed for a minor infraction.
When she was 13, she fled into China, only to see her mother raped by a human trafficker. Her father later died in China, where she buried his ashes in secret. “I couldn’t even cry,” she said. “I was afraid to be sent back to North Korea.”
Eventually Yeon-mi and her mother escaped into Mongolia by walking and crawling across the frozen Gobi desert.
By the time Yeon-mi had finished with a plea to “shed light on the darkest place in the world”, the whole audience was in tears and on its feet. Yeon-mi became the human face of North Korea’s oppressed.
Attacks on prominent North Korean defectors are nothing new. These individuals regularly endure charges that they lie and exaggerate. Occasionally there are death threats. But the regime’s most common weapon against its critics is character assassination.