Liberty in North Korea Forms at UCI

By James S. Kim
Staff Writer

The eruption of the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East last year resulted in the fall of several regimes and leaders. Protestors and activists relied on social media to let their voices and complaints be heard.

While the Arab Spring was an example of the power of the collective human voice, North Korea remains silent, an example of the power of indoctrination and suppression of an oppressive regime.

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) seeks to give voices to those who cannot speak. In 2004, two individuals began educating college students the humanitarian and human rights crises in North Korea.

Since then, LiNK has grown into an organization with several affiliates and chapters, all driven by activists seeking to spread awareness and cause change.

In addition to its various chapters in the United States, LiNK also places efforts into the rescue and resettlement of North Korean refugees, working with governments to help process the refugees and reach safe nations.

Chris Lauron, a fourth-year political science major and president of the UC Irvine LiNK chapter, hopes to inspire the same drive for change by raising awareness about the different aspects of the North Korean crisis after being introduced to the issue in high school.

“When I started researching about North Korea in high school, I was always fascinated by the human rights issue, why things are the way they are and why they have to be that way,” he said. “I think that was one of the things that inspired me to go into political science.”

During his stint studying abroad in South Korea his third year, Lauron ran into a former staff member at LiNK, who helped him with potentially setting up a chapter in Irvine.

After gathering friends who had interned or worked with LiNK, he found enough potential in applying to form a local chapter.

LiNK utilizes what it calls “creative storytelling” to raise awareness through film and other media, emphasizing the voices and stories of refugees to inspire a collective voice of moved activists.
The organization arranges national tours to present its films to educate communities while also providing support to its local chapters.

The UC Irvine chapter held its own screening of LiNK’s latest documentary on Monday, April 8, called “The People’s Crisis.” It features interviews from escaped North Korean refugees and offers a view of their journeys to freedom, the level of poverty and the grassroots changes happening inside the country.
The club also set up a booth by the stage in the Student Center Wednesday through Friday during week one, showcasing art drawn by escaped refugees that depict their lives in North Korean gulags.

“Not a lot of people are aware of what is going on inside North Korea, especially the political situation with China and North Korea,” Lauron said. “We hope that this video was educational and informative to those who wish to know more.”

Besides raising awareness, there also comes the task of raising funds, which go towards LiNK’s operational costs in supporting its field mission in Asia. Regarding other local chapters, UCLA’s LiNK chapter raised over $7,500 during its 2011 fall quarter and Lauron hopes to have a similar impact through funding.
“Since we’re so new, we’re thinking of small ways to raise money,” he said. “We have wristbands and screenings, and we hope to hold events for different performance groups that we know.

“We haven’t had a solid LiNK chapter here at UCI for a while. You look at places like USC, UCLA — their chapters are raising a lot of money. They are among the top donators in the United States. I saw UCI, and we didn’t even have a chapter, and I was thinking, why is that?”

Lauron hopes to see the chapter grow, especially with the size of the Korean population at UCI.

Most importantly, he would like to see a foundation laid out for future members of the LiNK chapter.

“We definitely need people to help us lay some groundwork, especially since we’re a small group,” he said. “I encourage people to get educated about the issue and hopefully become involved with us.”

The North Korean Art Exhibit booth will be up again from April 11-13 in the Student Center.
The UCI LiNK chapter meets on Monday nights at 7:00 p.m.