South Korean authorities are investigating the possibility that a North Korean defector who fled to Seoul and became a reality-TV star has been kidnapped by Pyongyang. Officials said Wednesday that they were made aware of Lim Ji-hyun’s return home after a video was posted online where she denounced her time in the south as “hellish.”
Lim Ji-hyun left North Korea some years ago for China, where she married a Chinese national. Having ended the arranged marriage, Lim arrived in Seoul in January 2014 and soon found fame as a TV star on talk shows and reality television, including shows that featured defectors from the North.
However, on July 15, a video appeared on YouTube showing Lim back in Pyongyang. In it, she says her return to the hermit kingdom was voluntary and that she had travelled to the South, “led by fantasy that I could eat well and make a lot of money.”
In the video Lim is interviewed by another defector who has returned to North Korea, and she introduces herself as Jeon Hye-Sung. Lim says her time in Seoul was “hellish” and criticizes South Korea as a “country where everything is judged by money,” adding: “I was haunted by physical and psychological pain, although I worked my butt off at bars and other places.”
Lim says she is back “in the motherland” and has moved back in with her parents. However authorities in the Seoul are now investigating whether the star was abducted after she travelled to China in April.
Police in Seoul, where Lim lived after she defected, are now scouring her financial records, bank accounts, and phone records to find out if the defector actually moved back to North Korea of her own accord.
Korean media reports that at her three-month defector orientation meeting, she was classified as “not to be concerned,” meaning authorities there did not fear her returning to Pyongyang.
Some other defectors fear Lim was lured back to China under the illusion that she might have been able to help her family flee the country. Lee Hyun-ho, a refugee who currently lives in Canada, said it was very obvious Lim’s interviews were forced, and that she was deliberately targeted by North Korea as a warning to other defectors starring in South Korean TV shows.
Television shows like those Lim starred in are smuggled into North Korea, and authorities there fear that this inspires others to defect to the South.