The mother of Megumi Yokota, kidnapped in 1977 by North Korean agents, on Sunday urged the international community to take Pyongyang’s human rights issues seriously and act to save people in North Korea, including Megumi.
“Forty years have passed since my precious daughter Megumi was suddenly abducted at age 13 by North Korean agents, and yet she cannot return no matter how hard we have made desperate efforts to rescue her,” Sakie Yokota, the mother of Megumi, said in an interview with NK News.
On Sunday, her supporters held a party to celebrate her 81th birthday in Kawasaki City, near Tokyo. About 90 people attended, including media.
“North Korea is a very unique authoritarian regime, ignoring human rights,” she said. “I always feel sorrowful whenever I think about how Megumi is feeling in such a life circumstance every day.”
“I hope the whole world to take North Korea’s human rights issues seriously and act to make them live in happiness,” she said.
Megumi, now 52, disappeared on her way home from a junior-high school in Niigata city, about 200 kilometers northwest of Tokyo, on the evening of November 15, 1977.
On January 1997, 20 years later, Sakie and her husband Shigeru, 84, were shocked to learn that Megumi had been abducted by North Korean operatives. The Yokotas have since become some of Japan’s most high-profile crusaders for Japanese abduction victims, and Megumi Yokota remains a tragic heroine for Japanese abductees and for the country.
“I never thought this has taken us so many years to pass by,” Sakie said. “All I’d like to say to Megumi is: ‘Please be alive. Please be well.’ [I’d] like to take her back to Japan safely.”
North Korea has claimed Megumi committed suicide in 1994 and returned a set of remains. But Japan has said that a DNA test proved they could not have been her remains, and her family does not believe that she would have committed suicide.
While in the North, Megumi married Kim Young Nam, a South Korean abductee living in North Korea, and later got divorced. They had a daughter, Kim Eun Gyong, now 29.
The Japanese government has confirmed that North Korea kidnapped 17 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s; so far only five have returned and 12 are unaccounted for.
In September 2002, when then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted for the first time that North Korean agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese nationals. Pyongyang has claimed that eight, including Megumi Yokota, are dead, and that the other four never entered the country.
The abducted Japanese nationals, including Megumi, are believed to have been forced to teach Japanese language and culture to North Korean intelligence agents for covert operations against South Korea.
In April 2014, the Yokotas met then-U.S. President Barack Obama in Tokyo to ask the U.S. to work with Japan to address the long-running abduction issue. In April 2006, Sakie also met then-U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House.
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