She Is on the Dictator’s List – Has Renamed Seven Times

“I remember being scared. Everyone was silent. But I did not understand what a public execution meant. I did not know why the person was hanging.

Perhaps she would be more frightened if she was older. Now she was far too young to know human rights and thought that executions were a means of stopping crime. Once, she witnessed how a man was shot in her head before her family.

– During an execution, the family must be there. It will remind people not to do anything against the regime, then you risk being killed. For people in North Korea, public executions are still part of life.

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North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was proclaimed in 1948 and has since been ruled by the iron dynasty of the Kim dynasty.

√ First by Kim Il Sung – designated as “the Eternal President of the Republic”.

√ Then by the son Kim Jong-il – titled “the dear leader”.

√ And now of the grandson Kim Jong-un – called “the great successor”.
Tt / AP
North Korean protests against South Korea 2012. The pictures represent the former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il.

The country is usually described as the most closed in the world and it is difficult to gain credible information about what actually happens within the boundaries. A UN report from 2014 states that the regime is guilty of crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, slavery, rape, forced abortion, starvation and persecution. Thousands of North Koreans fly every year.

We were brainwashed. We thought they were gods

Hyeonseo Lee lived in the city of Hyesan, near the border with China. In her teens, she secretly began to dream about life in the big neighboring country.

– I realized that my country might not be the best in the world and thought that China could be.

One day, when she was 17, she took over the frozen river. But life in China was not easy. In order to avoid being detected by the security service – and sent back to North Korea – she was forced to live illegally in the country. Ten years later, she went to South Korea where she still lives and fights for North Korea’s rights.
Hyeonseo Lee
Hyeonseo Lee on her mother’s back to the right. A later image to the left.

When we reach Hyeonseo Lee, who is now 37, she is at a book fair in India. She has written a book about her flight from North Korea, via China, to South Korea: “The girl with seven names”.

– Hyeonseo Lee is my seventh name. That means I have had seven different lives. What normal person has been forced to renamed seven times?

Do you feel fear of the North Korean regime?

– The regime knows what I do. I have been on their lists for a long time and have been warned by the CIA. But even if I’m afraid, it does not mean I’ll be quiet. If we are silent, the regime will be able to continue oppressing the people.

One of the most frequently asked questions Hyeonseo Lee receives from people around the world is about the pictures of masses that cheer hesitantly when leaders have died. Are they genuine?

– My answer is yes, that’s true. We were brainwashed. We thought they were gods.
Tt / AP / KRT
People in sorrow associated with Kim Jong-ils funeral in Pyongyang in December 2011.

At the same time, she believes that much has happened in North Korea as well. Foreign culture has been explored in the country and many have begun to question the regime.

– When Kim Il Sung died in 1994, I believe that over 90 percent of the population cried from the heart. We thought we had lost our sun that the world would go down, “she says.

– When Kim Jong-il died in 2011, maybe half of the population cried, the rest I think was pretended. That’s how people survive in North Korea. When the state television filmed you, you must show that you are mourning.