South Korean opposition Democratic Party of Korea chair Rep. Lee Jae-myung is facing criticism from the families of victims of North Korean abuses and defectors over his remarks “flattering” the Kim Jong-un regime.
Lee Rae-jin, whose brother was killed by North Korean soldiers at sea in September 2020, told The Korea Herald on Friday he was “utterly dismayed” at the leader of a South Korean major political party “fraternizing with the criminal regime.”
In remarks delivered at a Jan. 19 party leadership meeting, the Democratic Party chief referred to the two preceding leaders of North Korea, who are respectively Kim’s father and grandfather, as “the forefathers.”
“We must strive to make sure the efforts made by the forefathers, chairmen Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung of our North Korea, are not undermined,” he said at the meeting. He was calling on Pyongyang to cease military provocations.
The bereaved brother said the Democratic Party chair “ought to remember there are still families filled with grief.”
“My brother, a South Korean government official, was killed like a dog at the hands of the criminals in North Korea. He is not the only one,” he said. “How can he call himself a leader of this country while openly flattering enemies who have the blood of South Korean civilians and soldiers on their hands?”
Choi Min-kyong, a survivor of a North Korean political prison camp who fled to the South in 2012, told The Korea Herald that the opposition leader needed to apologize before the public.
“He needs to be held responsible for his pro-Kim regime remarks, calling Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung ‘forefathers.’ As someone who witnessed and survived the brutality of their rule, I don’t think such remarks can be excused,” she said.
On Thursday, the deceased official’s brother and other victims’ groups filed a request for a National Assembly-led investigation into North Korea’s killing of a South Korean official at sea in 2020 during the Moon Jae-in administration. Several ex-Moon officials are facing criminal trials for allegations of an attempted cover-up of the official’s death and other wrongdoing.
The ruling People Power Party Rep. Hong Suk-joon, who met with the families of the victims, said he would discuss the possibility of the parliamentary investigation with the party leadership.
“The chief of the Democratic Party speaks as though the two previous Kims of North Korea had made any efforts for peace and humanity, when there are countless victims who still suffer,” he told reporters.
Hong is a part of the delegation of People Power Party lawmakers who visited the US in September 2022 to attend a meeting of the international parliamentary alliance against North Korea’s human rights abuses.
The late official’s brother, Lee, who accompanied the South Korean lawmakers, met with the parents of Otto Warmbier during the US trip to discuss possible joint efforts to hold the North Korean regime accountable.