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PRESS RELEASE: State of the Union Address to the World: Protect and Support North Korean Escapees!
February 01, 2018

State of the Union Address to the World: Protect and Support North Korean Escapees!


Ji Seong-ho lifts his crutches up in triumph during President Trump’s State of the Union Address Tuesday night. These crutches helped Ji escape the Kim regime after he lost a hand and foot.


President Donald Trump’s State of the Union (SOTU) Address on Tuesday night sent a clear message to the world: protect and support North Korean escapees and give them a voice! President Trump displayed his administration’s commitment to the North Korean people and “American resolve” to confronting the Kim regime by inviting Ji Seong-ho and Otto Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy, to appear as special guests of First Lady Melania Trump during the SOTU.


“Protect and support North Korean escapees and groups working to improve the North Korean human-rights situation, give North Korean escapees a voice, do not muffle them.” –Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu


The First Lady’s guests embodied both tragedy and hope but ultimately resilience in the face of adversity. Mr. Ji’s literal raising of his crutches in triumph and defiance of the Kim regime will live on in history as a message of the strength and determination of the North Korean people.


Mr. Ji is a North Korean escapee who grew up during the country’s grueling famine in the 1990s. In order to survive, Ji would exchange stolen coal for food on the black market. While taking coal from a train car in 1996, a malnourished Ji lost consciousness and fell onto the tracks, losing his left hand and foot when a train ran over him. After a grueling amputation surgery, Ji was left to fend for himself. In 2006, he escaped to South Korea, where he is now a law student at Dongguk University. Ji is also the president of Now Action and Unity for Human Rights (NAUH), where he helps broadcast information into North Korea and facilitates the resettlement of defectors in South Korea. His most recent work with NAUH involved giving theatrical performances entitled “Kotjebi” (“Street Children”) in the United States to detail the abuses that street children roaming around the markets of North Korea face.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) commends the coverage of our friend, Ji Seong-ho, who has endured but overcome so much. As HRNK Co-Vice-Chair Suzanne Scholte noted, “Much congratulations go to Greg Scarlatoiu for leading the effort to make it possible for Ji to be there for this historic occasion.”


HRNK continues to mourn the tragic and cruel loss of Otto Warmbier, a death due to torture at the hands of the Kim regime, according to Senior Adviser Robert Collins. As Ambassador Nikki Haley said yesterday on her Twitter account, “We will never forget Otto or the other Americans being held by the brutal NK regime. #NeverForgetOtto”


Fred and Cindy Warmbier look to President Trump as he honors the loss of their son, Otto, during the SOTU.


At HRNK, we will never forget all those who have suffered and died due to the Kim regime, and we continue to call for the regime to dismantle its egregious political prison camps where upwards of 120,000 are reported to be imprisoned for political “crimes.” In recent Congressional testimony, HRNK has also recommended that the US Congress pass  S.1118, the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2017, and that the Trump Administration appoint a full-time special envoy to address the ongoing issue of North Korean human rights.


Please stay tuned for Director of Programs Rosa Park’s exclusive interview with Mr. Ji following his appearance during the State of the Union as a guest of First Lady Melania Trump. More information can be found at our website, www.hrnk.org, Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CommitteeHRNK, and Twitter account, twitter.com/committeehrnk.


HRNK’s Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu is available for any media requests at [email protected] or 202-499-7973.  His comments appear in Gordan Chang’s recent Daily Beast article here: https://www.thedailybeast.com/in-state-of-the-union-trump-goes-where-kim-jong-un-fears-most.


HRNK was founded in 2001 as a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization dedicated to documenting human rights conditions in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as North Korea is formally known. Visit www.hrnk.org to find out more.



Board of Directors
(Affiliations other than HRNK are for identification only)

Gordon Flake (Co-Chair)
Katrina Lantos Swett (Co-Chair)
John Despres (Co-Vice-Chair)
Suzanne Scholte (Co-Vice-Chair)
Helen-Louise Hunter (Secretary)
Kevin C. McCann (Treasurer) 
Roberta Cohen (Co-Chair Emeritus)
Andrew Natsios (Co-Chair Emeritus) 
Morton Abramowitz
Jerome Cohen
Lisa Colacurcio
Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Jack David
Nicholas Eberstadt
Carl Gershman
Stephen Kahng
David Kim
Robert King
Debra Liang-Fenton
Winston Lord
David Maxwell
Marcus Noland
Jacqueline Pak

Executive Director
Greg Scarlatoiu

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