Has Yeonmi Park Been Exaggerating Her Claims About Her Life in North Korea?

It looks like the North Korean defector Yeonmi Park who has made international headlines about her defection from the country has been exaggerating some of the tales she has been telling:

You’d have to have been inhuman not to be moved. But – and you’re going to hear a lot of “buts” – was the story she told of her life in North Korea accurate? The more speeches and interviews I read, watch and hear Park give, the more I become aware of serious inconsistencies in her story that suggest it wasn’t. Whether this matters is up to the reader to decide, but my concern is if someone with such a high profile twists their story to fit the narrative we have come to expect from North Korean defectors, our perspective of the country could become dangerously skewed. We need to have a full and truthful picture of life in North Korea if we are to help those living under its abysmally cruel regime and those who try to flee.

“Celebrity Defector”

I met Yeonmi Park a few months ago when I spent two weeks filming a story about her and her family for Australia’s SBS Dateline. We called the story, “Celebrity Defector.”

Back in South Korea where she now lives, Park is one of the stars of a television program featuring a cast of North Korean women. It’s called “Now On My Way To Meet You” and it daringly satirizes the Kim Dynasty. The women tell personal anecdotes about their lives in North Korea and their journey to the south. A number of the women were introduced to us as having been homeless and starving – the reason they fled.

Buried in the shows archives are some snapshots of Park’s childhood in North Korea that explain why she’s known on the show as the Paris Hilton of North Korea. They’re in sharp contrast to the story she’s now telling her international audience.  [The Diplomat]

You can read the rest at the link, but it is a very convincing case that Park has exaggerated circumstances of her defection to possibly help raise awareness and funding for the North Korean human rights organizations she has been working with.

Here is Yeonmi Park’s response to this article:

I want to thank Mary Ann Jolley for caring so much about the terrible situation in North Korea that she would point out any inconsistencies in my quotes and how my story has been reported. Much of the time, there was miscommunication because of a language barrier. I have only learned English in the last year or so, and I’m trying hard to improve every day to be a better advocate for my people. I apologize for any misunderstandings. For example, I never said that I saw executions in Hyesan. My friends’ mother was executed in a small city in central North Korea where my mother still has relatives (which is why I don’t want to name it). And there are mountains you can even see on Google Earth – maybe you call them big hills in English – outside of Hyesan that we crossed to escape. There are many more examples like this.

But one very important thing to correct:  I do not have a foundation.  The website was a dummy site built by a friend, and it was not supposed to be live. There was no way it could accept money, and I haven’t taken any.  I am so sorry for the confusion. The site has been taken down.

Also, I apologize that there have been times when my childhood memories were not perfect, like how long my father was sentenced to prison. Now I am checking with my mom and others to correct everything. I am also writing a book about my life in North Korea, my escape through China and and my work to promote human rights.  It is where I will be able to tell my full story.

In the meantime, I thank you all for your patience and kindness to me.

I think most of the inconsistencies are pretty minor that could be explained by poor memory and English language skills other than the story of her mother being raped.  If that is not true then that is a flat out lie.  The organizations that promote defector testimony like this need to be very careful to not have defectors exaggerate or lie because this just plays into the hands of the Kim regime and its apologists.  The truth about North Korea is bad enough, there is no need to lie about it.



I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.


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