5 people sue N.Korea for hardship they suffered

A court hearing has started in Tokyo in which five people are suing the North Korean government for damages for hardship they suffered for many years after moving to the country with a promise of a good life there.

The trial was held at the Tokyo District Court on Thursday.

The five plaintiffs were among about 93,000 ethnic Korean residents in Japan, their Japanese wives and others who moved to North Korea in a repatriation program that started in 1959. The program continued for 25 years.

The plaintiffs eventually escaped from North Korea, and settled back in Japan. They are demanding a total of 500 million yen, or roughly 4.4 million dollars, in damages from the North Korean government.

They say they were subjected to a life of misery and hardship, with food shortages while in North Korea.

One of the plaintiffs was Kawasaki Eiko, who is in her 70s. She moved to North Korea when she was a teenager.

Kawasaki told the court that back then, she was repeatedly told that North Korea was "a paradise on earth" and she believed that.

She said that North Korean authorities initially allowed people repatriated from Japan to move around the country freely, but they gradually imposed restrictions on their movement.

Kawasaki also said that her family initially received corn and potato rations but they eventually stopped.

The lawyers for the plaintiffs say this is the first court case in Japan being held against the North Korean government as a defendant. Japan has no diplomatic relations with North Korea. The court posted the trial's date in front of its building.

The trial ended with only the day's hearing without anyone representing North Korea in attendance.

The court is due to hand down its verdict on March 23, 2022.

The five plaintiffs held a news conference after the trial.

Kawasaki said she moved to North Korea 61 years ago, and lived in fear for her life for more than 40 years before she escaped from the country.

She said she and the other plaintiffs have finally been able to bring the North Korean government to justice.

She said she will keep fighting until the day comes when all the people who moved to the North in the repatriation program can go back and forth between North Korea and Japan freely and see their relatives.