Kim Ha-young believes her husband was murdered for helping North Koreans defect.
It’s almost two years since she found her husband, Kim Chang-hwan, foaming at the mouth in the Chinese city of Dandong on the North Korean border. The 46-year-old father of two had been working as a missionary, helping North Korean defectors escape across the border. Kim Ha-young was living in the border city as well, helping her husband.
She had just spoken to her husband 15 minutes earlier. “He told me he was meeting a North Korean defector and would then come home. A short time later I got a call from one of his colleagues who said (my husband) collapsed on the street and he told me to rush to the hospital,” she said. “When I got there he was dead.”
Hospital officials said Kim Chang-hwan had committed suicide by swallowing pesticides. His wife believes he was killed by a North Korean agent.
Refusing to accept the hospital’s explanation for her husband’s death, Kim Ha-young demanded the Chinese government conduct an autopsy. The autopsy report came back saying there was no poison in his system. Fearful of a cover-up, she went to the morgue before his body was cremated and collected samples of his blood on a glove and gave them to South Korean authorities on her return to Seoul.
The South Korean government report on that blood sample, reviewed by CNN, revealed levels of poison high enough to kill a person instantly.
“My husband was aware of the risk. People around us were telling us that it is a dangerous job because the North Korean government will severely deal with people who helped North Koreans defect,” she said. “We thought maybe the risk was prison or being expelled from the country by Chinese government. We never thought that it would cost his life.”
Fellow missionary Seok Sa-hyun said his friend had received threats in the past but nothing could stop him from helping defectors or providing food to North Korea’s malnourished children.