TOKYO, Japan, October 15 ------ North Korean defectors in Tokyo symbolically summoned Kim Jong Un to court on Thursday over a repatriation program they described as "state kidnapping". The unusual case is a bid to hold Pyongyang responsible for a scheme that saw more than 90,000 people move to North Korea from Japan between 1959 and 1984. The program mainly targeted ethnic Koreans but also their Japanese spouses, lured by fantastical propaganda promising a "paradise on Earth".
Five participants who later escaped from North Korea demanded 100 million yen ($880,000) each in damages as they made their case in the Tokyo District Court. They have accused Pyongyang of "deceiving plaintiffs by false advertising to relocate to North Korea", where "the enjoyment of human rights was generally impossible". As there are no diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea, Kim has been summoned as the head of the North's government.
"We don't expect North Korea to accept a decision nor pay the damages," the plaintiffs' lawyer Kenji Fukuda said at a briefing last month. "But we hope that the Japanese government would be able to negotiate with North Korea" if the court rules in the plaintiffs' favor when it makes its judgement on March 23. Part of the defectors' complaint concerns separation from their families still trapped in the isolated country. "I spent 42 years there in the fear that I might be killed at any time. It's been 18 years since I defected from the North without telling anyone in my family," Eiko Kawasaki, one of the plaintiffs, said on Thursday.
Kawasaki told reporters she has lost touch with her family and does not know if they are "still alive or not" as contact with people in North Korea has become even more difficult during the pandemic. She had previously been in touch with her family.
In all, 93,340 people took part in the repatriation program carried out by the Red Cross Societies in Japan and North Korea, which was paid for by Pyongyang. The Japanese government also backed the scheme, with media touting it as a humanitarian campaign for Koreans struggling to build a life in Japan. During Tokyo's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula, millions of Koreans moved to Japan, either voluntarily or against their will. When Japan surrendered, hundreds of thousands remained, reluctant to return to their devastated homeland. They were stripped of their Japanese nationality and became stateless, and many believed propaganda films portraying an idyllic life in North Korea.