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Freed South Korean Salt Farm Slaves Struggle to Move On

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In this photo taken Thursday, April 3, 2014, a man walks through a salt farm on Sinui Island, south of Seoul, South Korea. Life as a salt-farm slave was so bad Kim Jong-seok sometimes fantasized about killing the owner who beat him daily. Freedom, he says, has been worse. In the year since police emancipated the severely mentally disabled man from the farm where he had worked for eight years, Kim has lived in a grim homeless shelter, preyed upon and robbed by other residents. He has no friends, no job training prospects or counseling, and feels confined and deeply bored. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

In this photo taken Thursday, April 3, 2014, a man walks through a salt farm on Sinui Island, south of Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press
KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — One freed South Korean salt-farm slave appeared in court Wednesday to confront his former boss. Another, sick of life in a homeless shelter, has been considering his one-time owner’s request that he come back.

They are among dozens of disabled men liberated in the past year from salt farms on remote islands in southwestern South Korea where a months-long investigation by The Associated Press found that slavery still thrives. The men, in many cases, have mixed feelings about their freedom. Several say they would rather return to the farms, however brutal, than live in grim homeless shelters.

Here are a few of their stories:

___

THE ESCAPEE

Kim Seong-baek’s dramatic escape from slavery prompted outrage last year, but despite a massive government investigation and short-lived public anger, officials haven’t kept their promises to build a center for freed slaves and help them get jobs.

Kim, who was rescued after Seoul police staged an undercover mission on Sinui Island, testified Wednesday as his former boss and a job agent appeared in a Seoul court to appeal their prison sentences. Kim spoke about being lured to a salt farm from a Seoul train station in 2012, staring at one point at his boss and the agent.

Kim, who occasionally works construction in Seoul, has no desire to go back; he says even looking at salt disgusts him. He still struggles with nightmares, with constant pain from the beatings he endured as a slave and with feelings of unchecked rage at his former boss.

___

FREE BUT ‘TRAPPED’

Life as a salt-farm slave was so bad for Kim Jong-seok that he sometimes fantasized about killing the owner who beat him daily. Freedom, he says, has been worse.

In the year since police emancipated the severely mentally disabled man from the remote island farm where he had worked for eight years, Kim has lived in a homeless shelter, where he has been preyed upon and robbed by other residents. He has no friends, no job training prospects or counseling, and feels confined and deeply bored.

“I want to go back,” Kim, 41, said during a recent interview in the shelter near Mokpo, the southwestern mainland port that is the gateway to dozens of salt islands.

“I feel trapped here,” he said.

Kim says he’s considering an offer by his ex-owner, who is being investigated for abuse but hasn’t been arrested. The farmer recently visited the shelter and asked if Kim would work for him again for about $90 a month.

___

20 YEARS A SLAVE

Han Sang-deok was freed by police last year after 20 years working without pay on a Sinui island salt farm.

“I just worked. I was there on my own. I went to work, I slept. Like that,” the 64-year-old mentally disabled man said in an interview at a cafe in Mokpo.

Han moved back in with his family, who had gone years thinking he was dead. He pauses for a long time when asked about his future plans. He finally says, “I don’t know what I should do.”

___

ANGRY AND LOST

Lee Hyang-gyun was freed from slavery in 2006, but he still finds himself consumed by anger and resentment.

He was 15 when two men grabbed him at a train station in a port town in southern South Korea and sold him to a rice farmer on an island near Sinui. For the next 18 years he was slave, working 15 hours a day, beaten at times, and living in a hut with no heat.

“My mind and body were aching,” Lee, 41, said in an interview.

Lee expressed no desire to return to the farms, but he feels lost and neglected. He said no one will hire him because he is mentally disabled. He lives off a small government pension.

___

STEPPING TOWARD NEW LIFE

Heo Tae-yeong may be one of the lucky ones. He has a guardian who orchestrated his move from a Mokpo area homeless shelter to a residential facility for the mentally disabled in Gwangju.

Heo, who cannot read or count, worries that he will struggle in a new environment, but is excited about the idea of learning job skills in Gwangju. He hopes to one day work in a factory.

When asked what he’ll do with the money he earns, Heo takes a long drag off his cigarette.

He doesn’t know. “I’ve never had any money.”

___

Foster Klug is AP’s Seoul chief of bureau. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/apklug

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bay Area

Liberian Presidential Candidate Tiawan Gongloe Makes Visit to Bay Area

As the next president of Liberia, Liberian presidential candidate attorney Tiawan Saye Gongloe has unveiled a 10-point plan for “A Better Liberia Agenda” and a 12-point strategy to fight corruption in Liberia, which is chief among his plans. He believes fighting corruption in Liberia will be his biggest challenge due to the characters that he wants to purge.

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Liberian presidential candidate Tiawan Saye Gongloe at the Federal Building in Oakland holding the broom symbolizing his intent to sweep out corruption in his home country.
Liberian presidential candidate Tiawan Saye Gongloe at the Federal Building in Oakland holding the broom symbolizing his intent to sweep out corruption in his home country.

By Uche J. Uwahemu

Liberian presidential candidate attorney Tiawan Saye Gongloe is making a tour of the United States to gather support for his vision of a corruption-free Liberia.

Beginning May 12, Gongloe visited several cities across the U.S., touching base with centers of the Liberian Diaspora, including the Bay Area, where approximately 10,000 Liberians live.

Known as the ‘poor man’s lawyer’ because he has helped protect the rights of the poor and journalists, Gongloe has participated in several meet-and-greets, Town Halls and high-level meetings with government officials, business and community leaders from Atlanta, Ga., to Columbus, Ohio, to Fargo, N.D., and Minneapolis, Minn.

The Oakland Post publisher Paul Cobb, Nigerian natives Uche Uwahemu, and Kayode Gbadebo sat down with Gongloe and some of his supporters at the Post’s downtown headquarters to discuss his vision for Liberia on July 13, 2022.

Friends of Gongloe Global, a group formed and dedicated to electing Gongloe to president of Liberia organized his California visit, which included a stop in Antioch. Group member and long-time Liberian civil rights activist Lovetta Tugbe could not contain her enthusiasm and support for Gongloe. “Attorney Gongloe exemplifies what a true public servant is about. He has for decades fought for all Liberians and has on many occasions almost paid with his life. He is the candidate for any Liberian that believes in freedom.”

For decades, Liberia has been plagued by corruption and insecurity. Gongloe sees no end to the suffering and lack of opportunities for the majority of the population. So, he was compelled to run for president.

Now 65, Gongloe has served the Liberian people in other official capacities, among them Minister of Labor and Solicitor General, resigning from his post in 2010.

According to Front Page Africa, “Gongloe has helped in drafting legislation for civil service reform, local government reform, forestry reform law, jury reform, anti-press laws, code of conduct for public officials, land authority act, whistle-blower and witness protection act.”

As a civil rights lawyer, he has devoted most of career to fighting for freedom of speech and equal rights for Liberian people. He has fought to bring to justice the politicians and their supporters that engaged in human rights violations in Liberia.

In addition, he has represented victims of human rights abuses.

Challenging the status quo comes at a high cost and Gongloe has the battle scars to prove it. He has been arrested and imprisoned many times. The civil rights icon has worked with many international organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In 2003, Gongloe was awarded the prestigious John Humphrey Freedom Award by the Canadian government.

As the next president of Liberia, Gongloe has unveiled a 10-point plan for “A Better Liberia Agenda” and a 12-point strategy to fight corruption in Liberia, which is chief among his plans. He believes fighting corruption in Liberia will be his biggest challenge due to the characters that he wants to purge.

He carries a tightly wrapped broom that represents his unwavering commitment to fight and sweep corruption out of Liberia.  “From top to bottom, we must respect and abide by our Constitution. The president should not have the power to change the Constitution whenever she/he feels threatened or uncomfortable with the letter of the law.”

After corruption, Gongloe wants to address education. “Access to quality education is a right, not a privilege,” he said.

In order for Liberian youth and the nation to compete in the global market, Gongloe will make both primary and secondary education free. As a nation, he wants to create economic opportunities for all Liberian and he is using this U.S. tour to meet with business leaders to discuss bilateral synergies.

Gongloe wants to re-establish a mutually beneficial relationship with the United States.  He urged all Liberians across the globe to get involve and retake their country from corrupt politicians.

To learn more or support Gongloe’s presidential campaign and to learn more, contact Dr. Tuwe Mehn and Shad Mongrue (209) 242-1974.

Front Page Africa reports contributed to this story.

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Activism

Protest of Palestinian American Journalist’s Killing by Israeli Police Draws 500 in S.F.

“If you were a Palestinian anywhere around the world who watched the news since the late ’90s, you grew up with Shireen Abu Akleh,” said Sabreen Imtair, a San Francisco State University student and Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) member in an interview during the protest. “A lot of people are saying they lost a household member. We are really feeling her loss right now.”

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Protesters march down 16th Street in San Francisco on May 14 to speak out against the Israeli killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, 74 years of occupation, and USA support of Israel. Photo by Zack Haber.
Protesters march down 16th Street in San Francisco on May 14 to speak out against the Israeli killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, 74 years of occupation, and USA support of Israel. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Starting at noon on May 14, over 500 people rallied and marched in San Francisco’s Mission District to protest the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and 74 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“If you were a Palestinian anywhere around the world who watched the news since the late ’90s, you grew up with Shireen Abu Akleh,” said Sabreen Imtair, a San Francisco State University student and Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) member in an interview during the protest. “A lot of people are saying they lost a household member. We are really feeling her loss right now.”

Abu Akleh, who had worked for the Al Jazeera news network for 25 years as one of the most prominent journalists reporting in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, died of a bullet wound on May 11 while covering an Israeli army raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank.

She was wearing a blue vest with large white letters stating “PRESS.” During Abu Akleh’s massive funeral on May 13, Israeli police beat people carrying her casket.

“We’re not even able to bury our dead in peace,” said AROC organizer Sharif Zakout during a speech at the San Francisco protest. “It’s disgusting.”

AROC, Palestinian Action Network, Palestinian Youth Movement, and Jewish Voice For Peace organized the San Francisco demonstration. It was one of at least 60 such actions occurring between May 14-16 around the world to remember Abu Akleh and to mark Nakba Day, an annual commemoration for Palestinians that began after 1948, when the British government formally stopped recognizing the state of Palestine and recognized Israel in its place.

This sparked the Arab-Israeli war when Zionist military forces expelled over 750,000 Palestinians and captured 78% of Palestine’s land.

In an interview at the protest, Lisa Rofel, a member of Jewish Voice For Peace, spoke out against Israeli occupation and explained why the Jewish group was present.

“We’re here because we strongly support the Palestinian struggle for liberation from Israeli occupation,” Rofel said. “It’s an occupation which has been vicious, cruel and inhumane and now has turned into military rule over almost every aspect of Palestinians’ lives. We also demand an end to U.S. complicity in that occupation.”

According to a report by Congressional Research Service, the Biden administration has allocated over $3.8 billion in military financing and missile defense funding to Israel this year.

During the demonstration, a diverse array of people that included elders along with young children, marched about a mile-long route carrying signs, banners, Palestinian flags, and art as they chanted in English and Arabic. Over 18 marchers carried one giant Palestinian flag together.

Some protesters carried signs stating 55 journalists have been killed by Israeli forces since 2000, a figure The Palestinian Journalists’ Union cites.

Other protesters carried signs calling attention to Ahmed Manasra, a 21-year-old Palestinian who has been imprisoned since he was arrested at age 13 after being with his cousin, who allegedly stabbed two Israeli settlers in Pisgat Ze’ev.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, UN bodies and the International Court of Justice considers Pisgat Ze’ev an illegal settlement.

Chris Gazaleh, a Palestinian American artist based in San Francisco, made some of the art for the rally by creating signs inspired by Palestinian architecture and Arabic calligraphy to represent cities that Zionists ethnically cleansed during the 1948 Nakba.

During a speech at this year’s San Francisco Nabka rally, Rivka Louissant, a Haitian cultural worker who organizes with the an anti-war and anti-racism coalition ANSWER, spoke about how people and organizations are increasingly supporting an end to Israeli occupation and the struggle for Palestinian autonomy.

“Support for Palestinian rights and BDS is more popular than ever,” Louissant said. “The public is waking up to the evils of imperialism.”

In April of last year, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of “crimes of apartheid,” and in February of this year, Amnesty International described Israel as an “apartheid system,” and characterized its treatment of Palestinians as “a crime against humanity.”

Some local politicians have recently shown support for Israel. During a speech at the rally, AROC organizer Sharif Zakout criticized San Francisco Board Supervisor Rafael Mandelman for his recent visit to Israel for the Israel Seminar in light of Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing. Zakout characterized the seminar as “a propaganda trip.” The Israel Seminar is organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council, which has taken a public stand against the BDS movement, and has refused to denounce Israeli attacks against Palestinians. Photos from the trip, posted on May 15 and 16, also show Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, and San Mateo Councilmember Amourence Lee.

“We are here today to say the Bay Area does not put up with that BS,” said Zakout to cheers from the protesters. “We stand with oppressed people everywhere. From Haiti to Palestine to Sri Lanka, we stand by resisting all state violence, colonialism, occupation and warfare.”

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Activism

COMMENTARY: Beijing’s Winter Olympics? An African American Diplomat Speaks Out for the Uyghurs in China

Probably not “mass killing,” of an estimated 1 million like Pol Pot in Cambodia in the 1970s. But considering China’s restrictions on Uyghurs having children, and taking children away from families, it all falls within the conventional definition of the term, according to Naomi Kikoler, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the latest Smithsonian Magazine.

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Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com

By Emil Guillermo

Elana Meyers Taylor, an African American and four-time Olympic bobsledder, missed out on the honor of being the U.S. flag-bearer at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing last week.

After testing positive for COVID-19, she was forced into isolation. But by Monday she was cleared to compete in her events.

COVID-19 hangs over these games in China like a dense cloud. But it’s not the only cloud.

The other involves China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

Pronounced “Wee-ger,” they are a centuries-old Turkic people of Central Asia, but has been annexed as part of western China for a fraction of that time. Uyghurs are often referred to as Uyghur Muslims, and that should be your clue.

In a country viewed as homogenous as China, there are actually more than 50 ethnic minorities. The ones that stick out are the Uyghur Muslims.

Uyghurs’ movements in their home area, the Chinese province of Xinjiang, are restricted. What they do. What they say. How they pray.

The Chinese have subjected them to a forced assimilation into the Chinese mainstream. It’s really the systematic erasure of Uyghur culture.

Human rights advocates would say it earns China the gold medal in oppression.

It’s the reason U.S. President Joe Biden isn’t attending the Olympics. The U.S. has joined other countries in declaring a diplomatic boycott.

And the leading voice in defense of the Uyghurs’ human rights? An African American, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.

“Uyghurs are being tortured,” Thomas-Greenfield said recently on CNN. “And Uyghurs are the victims of human rights violations by the Chinese, and we have to keep that front and center.”

Mind you, as harsh and direct as those words were, Thomas-Greenfield from Louisiana, is being diplomatic. Makes you wonder just how bad it is for the Uyghurs.

The term ‘genocide’ is often used.

The Journal of Genocide Research in 2020 said many at first doubted the word should be used at all. But as British scholar Jo Smith Finley said, “More have shifted closer to this position, and others beyond our discipline have joined in.”

Genocide.

Probably not “mass killing,” of an estimated 1 million like Pol Pot in Cambodia in the 1970s. But considering China’s restrictions on Uyghurs having children, and taking children away from families, it all falls within the conventional definition of the term, according to Naomi Kikoler, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in the latest Smithsonian Magazine.

Since 2017, China has placed up to 3 million Uyghurs caught praying or practicing their Muslim religion in re-education camps. It qualifies as the largest mass internment of an ethnic-religious minority since World War II.

China calls the camps vocational training. But survivors of the detentions say they were prisoners, some subjected to torture, rape, and beatings.

And then when people “graduate” from their indoctrination, they are sent to forced labor assignments with Western companies like Adidas, Amazon, Apple, and Google.

Some are calling it a form of slavery.

The lucky ones have fled the country in the Uyghur diaspora. In the U.S., there are about 250,000 Uyghur Americans who are able to keep their language and culture intact. But many haven’t been able to contact family and friends for years.

China is using the 2022 games as a propaganda tool of Olympic proportions. It even had the lone Uyghur athlete, Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a cross-country skier, light the torch. But then wouldn’t let her speak to the media.

So, all is good in China? We should know better.

And all this because the Uyghurs are Muslim and seen by China as terrorist threats to the state.

Nothing sporting about any of that. Enjoy athletes like Elana Meyers Taylor. But heed the words of Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

She can see through Beijing’s Olympic rings. She’s fighting for the Uyghers.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He does a talk show on www.amok.com

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