President spotlights defector’s saga as evidence of Pyongyang regime’s cruelty

Man holding up crutches, surrounded by people clapping for him (© Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho raises his crutches to acknowledge President Trump, who included Ji's story in his State of the Union address. (© Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump put a human face to the terror that North Korea imposes on its people by saluting Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector who nearly starved, lost limbs and was tortured in a country that the president called “depraved.”

In one of the most emotional moments of his first State of the Union address, the president saluted Ji.

Ji stood and thrust forward the crutches his father made and which the young man used as he traveled thousands of miles across Southeast Asia to escape North Korea. He received a loud ovation from the audience, made up of lawmakers, the president’s Cabinet, Supreme Court justices and others.

As a 13-year-old in 1996, while scavenging coal from trains to barter for food, Ji fell under a train, lost a leg and part of his arm and endured amputations without anesthesia. Later he was tortured by North Korean authorities for talking with Christians in China.

Ji escaped in 2006 and now works in Seoul to help bring other North Koreans to freedom and to broadcast “what the regime fears most: the truth,” Trump said.

“Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all,” the president said in his January 30 address. “No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea.”

Defectors from North Korea have described horrific treatment, including torture, sexual violence, summary executions, starvation and forced abortions. The country’s political prison system detains hundreds of thousands of individuals, including children.