On this site last week, Andrew Gimson interviewed Jihyun Park, who is standing as a Conservative council candidate in Bury. Here is summary of her story as he reported it.
A North Korean, she saw her uncle die of starvation in front of her, during a famine in the 1990s. Her brother was beaten by the army for a night after no longer paying loyalty money to the government, which he couldn’t afford to do.
She and her brother escaped to China, and fell into the hands of human traffickers, who sold her to a Chinese man and sent her brother back to North Korea: she doesn’t know if he is still alive.
Her purchaser used her for sex and to work in the fields. She became pregnant and was told to abort the child. Instead, she gave birth to her son alone in her room after 12 hours of labour:
When her son was five a paid informer betrayed her to the Chinese authorities, who sent her back to North Korea, where she was beaten, tortured and put in a labour camp.
Badly wounded, she was thrown out of the camp to die. Instead, she survived – and find a human trafficker who would take her back to China, where she was reunited with her son.
She went with him to Beijing, hoping to get to the South Korean embassy; instead, she met other North Korean refugees – and they escaped through Mongolia. They had to get through a two-metre fence, in which they cut a hole.
Jihyun was pursued by Chinese police, but a North Korean man called Kwang came back to help and her son. They escaped, and she fell in love with him.
For three days they wandered in the Gobi desert, but could find nothing to eat or drink. Her son lay down to die. To get water, they took him back across the border into China, where they made their way back to Beijing.
The three of them lived there for two years. In 2007, they met a Korean pastor who told them that the United Nations could get them out of China. In 2008, they arrived in Liverpool as asylum seekers, and were eventually sent to Bury, where they were given a council house.
“This is a democratic country – this country gave you freedom,” she told Andrew. Kwang has erected a flagpole beside the house, from which flies the Union Jack.
Today across Britain, those who haven’t already voted by post, or will shun these elections altogether will travel to a polling station, where they will be handed a ballot paper (or papers), which they can mark as they please.
They will then post that paper into a ballot box, perhaps exchanging a remark or two with the election officials. And leave unmolested by the state. It is a procedure so familiar that most of us take it for granted.
Jiyhun’s story reminds us that we shouldn’t: that in much of the world, the democratic rights that we take for granted simply don’t exist. They’re a gift so familiar that we fail to cherish them as we should. We wish her the very best of luck today.