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N. Korean defectors file human rights suit against Pyongyang in Tokyo court

This September 1959 file photo shows an application center for ethnic Koreans in Japan seeking to move to North Korea, in Tokyo's Adachi Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Five North Korean defectors filed a lawsuit demanding a total of 500 million yen in damages against the North Korean government at the Tokyo District Court on Aug. 20, alleging they were forced to live in terrible conditions in the hermit nation following their move back from Japan during the 1960s and 1970s.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind to be filed by North Korean defectors, according to their supporters.

The plaintiffs are second-generation ethnic Koreans living in Tokyo and Osaka, and were among some 93,000 people who moved to North Korea between 1959 and 1984 under a repatriation program organized by the Red Cross organizations of Japan and North Korea.

According to the lawsuit, they moved to North Korea believing the propaganda that they were going to "a paradise on earth," but the amount of food provided to them was not enough and they almost starved to death. The plaintiffs claim that "all of their basic human rights were suppressed."

Hiroko Sakakibara, 68, who now lives in the western Japan prefecture of Osaka, told a press conference after filling the suit, "My parents ended their extremely tough lives in despair. My body still shakes with anger. I want to shout, 'Give me my life back!'"

According the plaintiffs and their supporters, there is no route to deliver the suit to Pyongyang because Japan has no diplomatic relationship with North Korea. It is possible to move ahead with the trial by placing a notification document about the suit on the district court's bulletin board, but the trial may end without hearing from witnesses or examining documents, as the North Korean side may not even respond.

Lawyer Atsushi Shiraki, who is representing the plaintiffs, said, "We want the district court to rule on the illegality of North Korea's human rights violations."

(Japanese original by Akira Hattori, City News Department)

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