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Duped By North Korean Propaganda, Japanese Expats Are Suing Kim Jong-un

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party under way in Pyongyang

Meike Eijsberg

Kim Jong-Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea, has been summoned to appear in a Japanese courthouse. Five people who moved to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) between 1959 and 1984 are seeking 500 million yen (3.8 million euros) in damages from the North Korean government for deceiving them with promises of a prosperous life they never found in the totalitarian state, South Korean daily Segye Ilbo reports.

The plaintiffs, four women and one man, are among the estimated 93,000 Japanese-Koreans and other Japanese who moved to North Korea in the latter half of the previous century, often persuaded by a propaganda project (Zainichi Chosenjin no Kikan Jigyo) to attract immigrant workers. The targeted campaign was carried out through the General Association of Koreans in Japan (Chongryon), the de facto representative of North Korea in Japan, touting life in the Northern peninsula as "paradise on Earth."

At the time, it wasn't so far-fetched, with the DPRK's economy developing faster than that of South Korea and Japan. The idea was especially attractive to Koreans who had arrived in Japan during its colonisation (1910-1945) and remained after the war. Whether forced laborers or volunteering immigrants, many were living in dire poverty and were drawn into the prospect of Communist North Korea guaranteeing their basic needs.


A Twitter user stumbled upon the court summoning and posted photos online — nagoyanokaori/via Twitter

The arrivals from Japan soon discovered a far more grim reality, without the promised housing, education, food and clothing, and forced to work under dire conditions. One of the plaintiffs, Eiko Kawasaki, who went to North Korea at the age of 17 in 1960, explained: "North Korea wanted to attract Koreans, skilled workers and technicians, to cope with its labor shortage," French daily Le Monde writes.

Once the individuals arrived, they were not allowed to leave. Eiko only managed to flee in 2003. According to a 2013 UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights report, many of the Japanese expats "ended up in political prison camps and other places of detention in the DPRK."

Kim Jong-un, the grandson of the leader at the time, Kim Il-sung, is named in the suit as legal representative of the North Korean state. It is unclear if he is aware of his court date, scheduled for October 14, as South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo reports. In Japan, court summons are usually delivered directly to the person, but if there is no response, then the notice is publicly posted outside the courthouse. According toJapan Today, if he doesn't show up, it is likely the judge will rule in favor of the plaintiffs and order Kim Jong-un to pay the sought-after amount.

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