Park Jung-oh fled North Korea with his family in 2000. Today, he and his brother are on a mission to fight North Koreans’ ignorance of the outside world.

His older sibling, Park Sang-hak, had worked as a propagandist in the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League. Once he arrived in South Korea, he felt something new — freedom. “The biggest surprise for me was, I realized how much I was fooled and how much I was brainwashed in North Korea,” he said.

Portrait photo of Park Sang-hak (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)
Park Sang-hak won the 2013 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent for his innovative tactics. (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)

Park Sang-hak, pictured above, founded an organization that uses balloons to lift material and equipment on human rights and democracy, even popular movies and TV shows, into North Korea. He also sends information about world events — news that the country’s state-controlled media would never report.

“The North Korean regime felt so threatened that they twice sent assassins,” Park Sang-hak said.

Messages in a bottle

Park Jung-oh has his own organizations dedicated to helping defectors adjust to the new reality outside of the North. He has started a free after-school program that helps students learn English and thrive in their new life.

Park Jung-oh also founded an organization that packs large water bottles with rice and USB drives. Like a “message in a bottle,” they are carried by the current to beaches in North Korea.

Man holding arms outstretched by large balloons (© Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)
Park Sang-hak shows off balloons destined for North Korea. They carry information about the outside world. (© Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korean dramas and American action movies are favorites on USB drives that make their way into North Korea.

Together, the Park brothers are part of a coalition of organizations of North Korean defectors. With different strategies to get information into North Korea, the siblings share information and tactics with their counterparts in other groups.

“These different groups have different goals and objectives, but we all work together for the ultimate goal of helping not only the defectors in South Korea, but also our brothers and sisters in North Korea,” Park Sang-hak said.