N. Korea es­capees tell of atroc­i­ties in la­bor camps

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY SHAUN WATER­MAN

North Korea is “one of the dark­est places on Earth,” but there are chinks in the wall that the com­mu­nist dic­ta­tor­ship uses to keep its peo­ple iso­lated.

Ex­iles in the South are be­gin­ning to ex­ploit them by smug­gling in DVDs, flash drives and short­wave ra­dios that are floated across the bor­der in he­li­um­filled bal­loons, mem­bers of Congress were told Sept. 20.

De­fec­tors from North Korea and hu­man-rights ex­perts painted a har­row­ing pic­ture of life in the vast prison camps run by the regime. They told a House For­eign Af­fairs sub­com­mit­tee that even in the her­metic, oneparty state where lis­ten­ing to for­eign broad­casts is a crime and do­mes­tic ra­dios are locked on a sin­gle fre­quency, in­creas­ing numbers can ac­cess in­for­ma­tion from the out­side world.

“North Korea con­tin­ues to be one of the dark­est places on Earth, and we have failed to ad­dress the main is­sue [. . .] which is hu­man rights be­cause we have fo­cused in­stead on the nu­clear is­sue,” said Suzanne K. Scholte of the non-profit De­fense Fo­rum Foun­da­tion. “This has had tragic re­sults.”

Those re­sults were spelled out by two former pris­on­ers from North Korea’s night­mar­ish Gu­lag sys­tem of prison la­bor camps.

In­mates sur­vived on a diet of rats and in­sects, said dancer Kim Young-soon, who was jailed in 1970 be­cause she knew about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a fel­low dancer and Kim Jong-il, who later suc­ceeded his fa­ther as “supreme leader” of the Korean Work­ers’ Party and the North Korean state.

“My one wish was to eat just one bowl of white rice for one meal,” said Kim Hye-sook, jailed at age 13 in 1975, be­cause her grand­fa­ther had decades ear­lier fled to the South.

Both later es­caped and came to South Korea, where they joined the bur­geon­ing move­ment of ex­iles from the com­mu­nist state. lia­men­tary in­quiry by an­nounc­ing that “the Gando Con­ven­tion is legally null and void.” Af­ter China is­sued a strong warn­ing to Seoul, Mr. Ban backed down by say­ing that although the Gando Con­ven­tion is il­le­gal, South Korea “will deal with sovereignty of the re­gion from a non­le­gal stand­point.”

Nev­er­the­less, China de­manded that Korean of­fi­cials with­draw the state­ment, only to be met with a re­peated state­ment from Seoul that the Gando Con­ven­tion was in­deed il­le­gal but no im­me­di­ate re­turn of the area to the Kore­ans would be de­manded.

Up to 200,000 peo­ple are held in North Korea’s prison camps, ac­cord­ing to the tes­ti­mony of Greg Scar­la­toiu, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Com­mit­tee for Hu­man Rights in North Korea. He added that satel­lite im­agery over the past 10 years “in­di­cates a con­sid­er­able in­crease in the scale of the camps.”

One of the “crimes” for which North Kore­ans can be im­pris­oned is for lis­ten­ing to or watch­ing broad­casts of for­eign ra­dio or TV.

None­the­less, Mr. Scar­la­toiu said, sur­veys of those who had es­caped in­di­cated that as many as 30 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion have lis­tened to for­eign ra­dio broad­casts, in­clud­ing those from the U.S. funded Ra­dio Free Asia. Among other sources, ra­dios were smug­gled in from China, he said.

As many as half a mil­lion peo­ple in the North now have cell­phones, Mr. Scar­la­toiu said. The phones can­not re­ceive calls from the South, but call­ers there can con­nect to their rel­a­tives or friends in the North through Chi­nese bro­kers, he told a hear­ing of the sub­com­mit­tee on Africa, global health and hu­man rights.

Although In­ter­net ac­cess is re­stricted to for­eign­ers and those in Mr. Kim’s in­ner cir­cle, about 3 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion are thought to have ac­cess to per­sonal com­put­ers, he said. They use these to watch DVDs, of­ten pi­rated copies of Hol­ly­wood movies or South Korean soap op­eras.

A North Korean squid fish­er­man who fled the coun­try said later he had been in­spired to leave by watch­ing South Korean soap opera, Mr. Scar­la­toiu added,

Ms. Scholte told The Washington Times that one of the things de­fec­tors re­ported was that North Kore­ans were fas­ci­nated by the kitchen ap­pli­ances por­trayed in the soap op­eras.

“It gives them the chance to see the pros­per­ity in which their South Korean neigh­bors live,” she said.

De­fec­tor Kim Seong-min, founder of Free North Korea Ra­dio, told The Times his or­ga­ni­za­tion was smug­gling DVDs of western movies into the North with short coun­ter­pro­pa­ganda films spliced into them.

He said they had pro­duced 4,000 DVDs of the first three Rambo movies in­ter­cut with items about North Korea, such as com­par­isons of its stan­dard of liv­ing with other coun­tries.

“We have to sup­port the creative things the de­fec­tors them­selves are do­ing like short­wave ra­dio [broad­casts] and these bal­loon launches,” said Ms. Scholte, re­fer­ring to the ex­iles’ ef­forts to float con­tra­band over the bor­der at­tached to he­lium bal­loons.


Young women pre­pare posters de­pict­ing night­mar­ish la­bor-camp con­di­tions to show at a Sept. 20 House For­eign Af­fairs sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing ti­tled “Hu­man Rights in North Korea: Chal­lenges and Op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

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