North Korean wins human rights award

The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (台灣民主基金會) announced yesterday that the 2009 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award will be awarded to Mr. Kim Seong-Min, founder and director of Free North Korea Radio. The award recognizes his courageous defiance of the North Korean regime and will support his ongoing work in providing an independent source of news and information to the people of North Korea.

Mr. Kim was born in North Korea and served in the North Korean army for 10 years, including as a propaganda officer. The first time he tried to leave the country, he was arrested, tortured in prison, and sentenced to death. On his way to his execution site, Kim jumped off a moving train, and eventually defected to South Korea in 1999. In 2004, he founded Free North Korea Radio to provide an independent source of news and information to his fellow North Koreans. Since then, FNKR has grown from its initial internet broadcast to 5 hours of daily programming on shortwave radio, earning it the 2008 Media Prize from Reporters Without Borders. Over the years, Kim has persisted in this endeavor to challenge and undermine the censorship and propaganda of the North Korean government, despite threats to his life. Kim is highly respected in the North Korean community in South Korea, and was elected chairman of the North Korean Defectors Association in 2004. A 2008 CNN report provides further information on Kim and FNKR.

“Mr. Kim Seong-Min represents the hope and dedication that is needed in any effort to bring about change in an extremely closed state,” said Dr. Wen-cheng Lin, President of the TFD. “North Korea has a notorious human rights record and can be considered the least democratic country in the world. We have seen little progress, despite many efforts by concerned members of the international community. Having escaped from North Korea, Mr. Kim knows first-hand how important it is to offer hope to people living under a brutal regime. He is dedicating his life to that cause, and his work is beginning to bear fruit. This year the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy is very pleased to honor him with our annual award.”

The award was judged by an international panel of human rights experts. One of the judges Dr. Alex Boraine, Chairperson of the International Center for Transitional Justice and former Deputy Chair of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission commented that “Kim brings the good news of people who are prepared to risk their lives for the sake of oppressed people in his own country. Radio is a very powerful tool to bring home the message of freedom and human rights.”

Mr. Kim Seong-Min will be awarded the 2009 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award at a ceremony in Taipei on 10 December, International Human Rights Day. The Award includes a US$100,000 grant to support his work at Free North Korea Radio.

*Article based on a press release from the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.