De­fec­tor’s tes­ti­mony shocks even vet­eran N. Korea watch­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - From Page One - By Andrew Salmon

SEOUL — He says he was tor­tured as a teenager. He watched as his mother and brother were ex­e­cuted, and un­til he was 20 years old, North Korean Shin Dong-hyuk had heard of nei­ther Kim Il-sung nor Kim Jong-il.

In a tes­ti­mony to stunned jour­nal­ists on Oct. 29, Mr. Shin, the first North Korean de­fec­tor to the South who was born in the North’s no­to­ri­ous gu­lag, re­vealed a night­mar­ish world in which in­mates and their chil­dren suf­fer life­time in­car­cer­a­tion, are kept ig­no­rant of out­side so­ci­ety and un­dergo forms of tor­ture that are me­dieval in their bar­barism.

“In my heart, I thought: ‘Par­ents com­mit­ted crimes, but why were in­no­cent chil­dren pun­ished?’ “ he said at a press con­fer­ence in­tro­duc­ing his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “Es­cape to the Out­side World.”

“I want to tell the world of this.”

Slight, and with a hum­ble man­ner, he shook as he showed cam­era­men his ex­ten­sive scars. His story has shocked even an­a­lysts who mon­i­tor Py­ongyang’s hu­man rights abuses.

North Korea claims it is a “worker’s par­adise,” and that it has no po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers.

But out­side au­thor­i­ties have ev­i­dence it op­er­ates a vast gu­lag sys­tem thought to hold more than 200,000 po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers and their fam­i­lies.

“We didn’t be­lieve it,” said Kim Sang-hun, head of Seoul’s Data­base Cen­ter for North Korean Hu­man Rights, of Mr. Shin’s story.

“It took many months be­fore we were con­vinced he was what he said he was,” said Mr. Kim, who de­briefed and now cares for Mr. Shin.

Mr. Shin’s mother was im­pris­oned in “To­tal Con­trol Camp No. 14” in cen­tral North Korea, for po­lit­i­cal crimes. As re­ward for good work, she was al­lowed to marry. The cou­ple’s “hon­ey­moon” was five nights to­gether be­fore be­ing sep­a­rated again. Mr. Shin was born in 1982.

There was no ma­ter­nal af­fec­tion: The camp’s 40,000 to 60,000 in­mates were in­doc­tri­nated to spy on each other, in­clud­ing fam­ily mem­bers. His ear­li­est me­mory is of fol­low­ing his mother to the camp farm to work; he has no rec­ol­lec­tion of be­ing em­braced.

Life con­sisted of work and crit­i­cism ses­sions. Re­mark­ably, Kim Il­sung, the de­ceased founder of North Korea, and his son and present ruler, Kim Jong-il — de­i­fied else­where in North Korea — were un­known to those born in the camps and never men­tioned by in­mates im­pris­oned there.

When Mr. Shin was 13, his mother and brother at­tempted an es­cape, un­suc­cess­fully. That day, a civil­ian car met Mr. Shin out­side the camp school. He was driven to a se­cret, un­der­ground lo­ca­tion.

There, guards de­manded de­tails of the plot. Mr. Shin was ig­no­rant of it. He was sus­pended over a fire. When he screamed, a hook was hacked into his groin. Un­con­scious, he was slung into a cell with a skele­tal old man.

The man cared for the child’s fes­ter­ing in­juries and gave him his own mea­ger ra­tions. It was the first time Mr. Shin had ever re­ceived af­fec­tion fro­man­oth­er­hu­man.“Iwill­n­ev­er­for­get him,” Mr. Shin wrote. “I came to love him more than my par­ents.”

Af­ter seven months, Mr. Shin was re­leased to wit­ness his mother’s hang­ing and his brother’s ex­e­cu­tion by shoot­ing. Mr. Shin no­ticed his fa­ther in tears, but he had only one emo­tion: “I was fu­ri­ous with them; as a re­sult of their crimes, I was sub­ject to tor­ture.”

Life con­tin­ued. His niece was raped and killed by guards. He dropped a sew­ing ma­chine; guards chopped off a fin­ger­tip with a knife. Con­stantly hun­gry, he once found three corn ker­nels in a pile of cow ma­nure, his “lucky day.” Un­aware of any world be­yond the wire, his dreams were to ex­cel at work, gain per­mis­sion to marry or be­come a team leader.

Then in 2004, he be­friended a new pris­oner who had es­caped to China, where­he­was­ap­pre­hended,re­turned to North Korea and sent to the prison camp.

Se­cretly, the in­mate told Mr. Shin of the out­side world. That knowl­edge con­sumed him. For the first time, work be­came in­tol­er­a­ble.

On Jan 2, 2005, while col­lect­ing fire­wood in the moun­tains, Mr. Shin es­caped, lac­er­at­ing his legs on elec­tri­fied barbed wire.

He reached China and found asy­lum at South Korea’s Shang­hai con­sulate. There, trau­ma­tized by night­mares, he be­gan writ­ing about his life.

Now that his story is told, his life path is un­cer­tain. “I have many choices, but have made no de­ci­sions,” he said.

Asked what mes­sage he would like to send Kim Jong-il, Mr. Shin thought for a mo­ment then said qui­etly, “I’d ask him to take one hour to think about the sit­u­a­tion in the camps.”

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