About This Fundraiser
The Korea Times
From Hwang Solo to Team Hwang
by Casey Lartigue Jr.
June 28, 2016
On December 11, 1969, a North Korean agent hijacked domestic flight Korean Air NAMC YS-11 from Gangwon to Gimpo just 10 minutes after take-off at 12:25 pm. All 50 people on board (46 passengers and 4 crew members) were abducted by North Korea.
The North Korean government eventually released 39 people, but held the other 11. One of those kidnapped is Hwang Won, then a producer with MBC. For about 15 years, his son, Hwang In-Cheol, has been asking the North Korean regime to return his father, doing a balancing act of raising awareness and pressure, without unnecessarily provoking the regime, and keeping it a non-political purely humanitarian effort.
It is not often that we get to collaborate with people who are connected to historical events, but on March 20 of this year, I met In-Cheol at the International Volunteers Workshop. An organization I founded with my South Korean partner, Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), is an NGO focusing on North Korean refugees, but we also allow South Koreans in as learners if they help North Korean refugees or can demonstrate a special relationship with North Korea. We invited In-Cheol to join TNKR as a student studying with volunteer English tutors so he can prepare to share his message in English and to join our special project addressing North Korean related issues so he could build a team of volunteers to help him with his cause.
For 15 years, In-Cheol has been holding one-man demonstrations, occasionally working with international and domestic NGOs and governments in his attempt to have his father returned from North Korea. He hit a low point when he lost money, and has had family members try to convince him to give up.
He has refused to let the father he barely knew be forgotten by the world. On June 17, he led a rally at Imjingak's Freedom Bridge (near the DMZ) along with 15 volunteers from TNKR and family members.
Based on pure numbers, the rally would be considered a failure, with only 15 of us participating. To In-Cheol, after doing this on his own for 15 years, it looked like an army a million-strong had joined him. So many people talk about saving the world, but they can't even help one individual. Many don't realize that their presence at events and small donations can help a cause and lift the spirits of those involved.
The most unlikely attendee at the rally: Cecilia. She was just a few months old and her brother In-Cheol was two years old when their father was taken from them by North Korea. She says that she had given up, trying for years to convince her brother and mother to move on with their lives. She now lives in the UK, she returned to South Korea last week to see their ailing mother, to observe the rally, and to see if she could really trust the people who have joined her brother's cause.
On April 13, when we started collaborating with her brother, I posted a photo on Facebook. She was shocked: Her brother had a big grin on his face. She informed me a few days ago that she had not seen him smile in years, that she had hated seeing photos from his one-man demonstrations. Over the last few months, she has seen volunteers from Germany, South Korea, Switzerland, France, the USA and even North Korea join him, in happy group photos as we planned the rally and other activities.
At the June 17 rally, when I met Cecilia for the first time, she told me that it felt like a dream. I pinched one of our interns, then said, "Nope, this is not a dream." She thanked us for giving a voice to him. She admits that she had tried to hide from the kidnapping. With a team of international volunteers, she said, "I feel like I have hands, arms, legs, a voice. The little weak girl could stand up."
The news media occasionally stumbles upon their story, driving by to take snapshots, then driving on to the next story and rarely looking back. The family has been in pain for 47 years, marking anniversaries and living successes and failures without Hwang Won.
The biggest compliment Cecilia gave to me as we talked a few days after the rally: "You are the person who makes invisible people visible. You listen to people, find out what they need, and try to find people who can help them so their voices can be heard. I finally feel that I have the power for my voice to be heard."
We hope we can continue to make their voices heard, that others will sign the online petition and join us this December to mark the 47th anniversary of KAL NAMC YS-11 being hijacked on December 11, 1969.
Casey Lartigue Jr. is the co-founder of Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) in Seoul.
TBS eFM report on the June 17 rally.
Please help me urge North Korea to confirm the fate of my father and return him to South Korea!
On December 11, 1969, my father went on a domestic business trip on a Korean Airlines (KAL) flight. Soon after takeoff, his plane was hijacked by a North Korean agent and forcibly taken to North Korea.
There is not a single reason in this world that my father should remain forcibly detained in North Korea. But for almost 50 yeras, my family and I have been forced to endure the pain of this cruel separation.
There are two reasons for my family’s suffering.
One reason is that the North Korean government has committed an act of international abduction and is refusing to admit the truth.
Another reason is our collective failure to respond to North Korea’s criminal behavior and to demand my father’s release. Our own inaction has served to legitimize North Korea’s criminal action.
All this is coming back to haunt us, creating an endless list of new victims.
One such person on this list is the late Mr. Otto Warmbier, a young American who tragically lost his life.
When I turned 34 years old, I began searching for ways to get my father back. Now, I am 50.
For the past 16 years, I have fought alone, doing everything I could think of to break the silence surrounding my father’s abduction. I never gave up hope that there were people out there willing to listen to the call of justice, and that a day would come when they will hear my voice. But for so many years, no one heard my message.
But then, I witnessed a miracle. In March 2016, I met TNKR, and they helped me create “TEAM HWANG,” a group of volunteers committed to help me raise awareness about my father’s abduction. And on May 30, 2017, the UN Human Rights Chief highlighted my father’s case in his annual report, shining a renewed light on the pain and suffering of my family.
The UN report has shown the world that my father’s abduction is very much a present-day and ongoing case of a serious human rights violation.
With this renewed focus, I plan to:
(1) call out to the world about the serious human rights
violation related to the 1969 KAL hijacking incident; and
(2) demand my father’s ‘repatriation’ under the rules of international law and humanitarian principles.
Raising international awareness is the key to sending a strong message to the North Korean government that they must ‘confirm’ the fate of my father and ‘repatriate’ him to South Korea.
I humbly ask you to support my efforts to reach out to the international community.
Your support will empower me to raise international awareness about my father’s case, which is the key to bringing my father home.
Thank you very much.
* Representative, KAL Abductees' Repatriation Committee (KALARC)
* TNKR Fellow in Human Dignity