Lim Ji-hyun fled North Korea to make a life in China and later South Korea, where she gained some fame by appearing on a television show that featured defectors who left Pyongyang behind. Now she’s surfaced on television again — this time on a North Korean program claiming she voluntarily returned to “the Mother Country” after becoming disillusioned with life outside her homeland. However authorities are trying to find out if she genuinely did return of her own accord, or if she was kidnapped by Pyongyang as a warning to other defectors.
Appearing in a YouTube video, Lim denouncing South Korea as “hellish” and explained that she went only because she was “led by fantasy that I could eat well and make a lot of money.” However, she claims she “was haunted by physical and psychological pain, although I worked my butt off at bars and other places.” She came home in large part because she missed her family, who she is apparently living with once again. However, the BBC reports that as recently as April Lim had described her birthday this year as “possibly the happiest birthday of my life.” It appeared she was well-adjusted to her post-Pyongyang existence and was happy.
It is sometimes hard for some of the thousands of North Korean defectors to adjust, and it isn’t always easy for them to find work. But Lim seemed to have hit her stride. That’s why her move is being investigated as a kidnapping, and some authorities are wondering if she might have disappeared after a trip to China, or if she was found near the North Korean border either trying to help family cross over. She may have been lured to either location by the promise of being able to help her parents and others.
Kidnappings of defectors and even foreign nationals by North Korea aren’t exactly common, but have been known to happen. One of the most famous instances was a Japanese couple, Kaoru Hasuike and his girlfriend, Yukiko Okudo, who were kidnapped while on a date and lived for years in a so-called “invitation-only zone,” a suburb for others with knowledge of life outside North Korea. Seoul police are combing through Lim’s financial and phone records to see if there is any evidence of what might have happened. In the meantime, there is little to go on besides Lim’s wane face in the YouTube video and the knowledge that, over several decades, just 25 defectors out of thousands have voluntarily returned to North Korea.