North Korean defector stands in UK local election after escaping awful torture

A North Korean defector who escaped sex trafficking and torture is standing for local council elections in the UK.

Jihyun Park has spent much of her life running from the hermit state's government but now she is putting herself forward as a Tory candidate in Bury, Greater Manchester, where she was settled.

The 52-year-old's journey to the UK included leaving her family behind in North Korea, twice being smuggled across the border into China by human traffickers, serving years in a a hard labour camp and even being sold into the sex trade.

She is believed to be the first person of North Korean descent to stand for office in the UK.

Jihyun Park said: "As a child, I didn't know what it meant to have a full stomach because we were always hungry.

"The government totally controlled our freedoms: freedom of speech, the freedom of politicians, everything. Life in North Korea was like slavery."

The human rights campaigner fled the dictatorship after her dad and uncle died of starvation when famine struck the country following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

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She and her brother decided to try and escape into China in the 1990s.

Jihyun said: "Everyone saw dead bodies in the street, of their neighbours and family members. I left my ill father alone in the cold dining room. I still don't know when he passed away or where his body is."

She was smuggled across the border by sex traffickers, who separated her from her brother and sold her to a Chinese farmer for just £500. She never saw her sibling again.

She had a child with the Chinese farmer, but in 2004 she was arrested and sent back to North Korea.

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There she faced torture and persecution in a forced labour camp but she was chucked out when she contracted gangrene and her captors thought she was close to death.

A kind stranger nursed Jihyun back to health and helped her escape to reunite with her son.

She is now a language tutor living in Bury and campaigns for the rights of all North Koreans hoping to follow in her footsteps.

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"In comparison my life in the UK is heaven," she added. "The last year has been really difficult for people all over the world.

"Every day, I sit down and hear how many people have died from Covid.

"That is really painful for me, because I have already seen the dead bodies piled up in North Korea."

The Bury Conservative Association tweeted: "We're so proud that, to our knowledge, Jihyun is the first ever North Korean defector to stand for local elections in Britain."

Many people still try and defect from reclusive North Korea every year, although numbers in 2020 were down due to stricter border controls imposed by dictator Kim Jong-un amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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