|The Punishment of Allegiance (2)|
The Punishment of Allegiance (2)
Young-Gul CHANG (pseudonym)
Escaped from North Korea 2008
Entered South Korea 2009
Limited Access to Information and Knowledge
In North Korea there are no television channels other than the Pyongyang Channel. The frequencies of all radios are not adjustable, so the Pyongyang Broadcasting Station is the only radio channel that people can listen to. No person can privately own a transistor radio; if one does, one will be treated as a spy.
People are not allowed to have personal computers or use the Internet. Cell phones have been available since last year, but only party cadres and elites can own them. Even for those who are permitted to own cell phones, phone calls are only available in certain areas within the country and international phone calls are beyond imagination. As a result, North Korea has become a completely “canned” country, totally isolated from the rest of the world.
Here is one example of how the North Korean government deceived its people. When North Korean television clamorously announced that the country successfully launched an earth satellite, I was watching it with my alumni friends who are all nuclear scientists. When the announcer said, “We successfully launched a satellite based solely on our own power and scientists. From our satellite of Juche, ‘Song of General Kim Il-sung’ and ‘Song of our great leader Comrade Kim Jong-il’ resound through the Universe,” my alumni friends scoffed. When I asked why, they explained that twelve Russian scientists led the satellite project, that numerous foreign scientists participated in it and that basic materials and equipment were all from outside the country. My classmates added that what they tested was not a satellite but a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which flew over Japan and “got stuck in the Pacific Ocean.” They told me that the experiment was still a huge success however, because the missile could reach the US military bases in Hawaii as well as South Korea and Japan. This shows that Kim Jong-il was only focusing on making North Korea a strong military country through nuclear and chemical weapons in order to sustain his power, whilst cheating and deceiving his people.
Forced Discharge from Military Service and working in the North Korean Forestry Representative in the Soviet Union
When I served in the North Korean army, I learned that our mortal enemies are first the US imperialists and then the puppet government of South Korea. Soldiers wore a Soviet-made military uniform at first, but after about 1967 they wore a domestically produced one, which became worn out within less than a year.
Like most children of anti-Japanese fighters, I moved up very fast thanks to my father, who was in a high-ranking position. Starting from a private to lieutenant colonel, I was later promoted to major general at the age of 27. However, a tragedy occurred. At that time, a lot of North Korean soldiers defected to South Korea and Kim Jong-il noted that those soldiers had often studied abroad or were children of high-ranking officials. He then ordered to investigate and discharge such soldiers. Since the North Korean army ensured any orders of Kim Jong-il came true, I was forcefully discharged with my dream shattered.
After the forced discharge, I worked in the North Korean Forestry Representative in the Soviet Union. During this period the Forestry Representative, the Representative Party Committee and the Representative National Security Agency (disguising its title as the People’s Security Agency) were in the Soviet Union. Under the representative, there were two Associated Timber Enterprises: Associated Party Committee and Associated People’s Security Agency. On the lowest level, there were seventeen forestry offices, the primary party for forestry offices, and the People’s Security Agency for forestry offices. A total of 25,000 people worked in the Forestry Representative in the Soviet Union. Those who had committed crimes within the country, released prisoners, bourgeoisie and others who were not “useful” to the Revolution were sent to the Forestry Representative as labor workers. Although forcefully discharged from the army, I served as a supervisor in the Forestry Representative.
One event exemplifies the inhumane treatment of the workers who were considered useless to the Revolution. One day, a forest troop barracks located nearby our forestry office caught fire and so every worker was mobilized to put out the fire. Even some Russians were dispatched by helicopter to help. There were 12-13 people living in an underground tunnel next to the troop who had injured their limbs during logging or were suffering from serious diseases. When I arrived at the site of the incident, I saw that even when the fire approached the tunnel, neither North Koreans nor Russians took any measures to get those people out.
When I asked why we did not save them, everybody simply said that everything was okay. I asked a NSA officer why we did not take those people to hospital and he said, “No, no. You do not know a thing. Those people deserve to die.” I asked why. “They are of the classes doomed to be purged”, he said.
This is North Korea. Such cruel attitudes were also shown when Kim Il-sung drove all the people with disabilities out of Pyongyang. He believed that people with disabilities disgraced the international image of the city. I recall that I had a classmate with a hunchback; he was also expelled from Pyongyang.
That was the first time I realized that there were problems with North Korean leaders and with North Korea as a whole. People should be judged by their own behavior. However, in North Korea people are judged for having “a defect in their classes,” meaning that descendants should face death due to their ancestors’ faults.
North Korea imprisoned people who were against its policies in a political prison camp or if deemed necessary, sent them to the Total Controlled Zone (Political Prison Camp), purged them, or shot them to death, sometimes publicly. Although I did not observe public executions while in the army, I saw many after I was discharged. Right after my discharge, I attended a meeting that was held by officials in a stadium. There were five people standing in front of the sitting crowd. It was only after a while I realized that the meeting was about the propaganda leaflet incident. The officials had arrested innocent people. Kim Jong-il had ordered them to apprehend the culprits of the incident by a certain date, so they arrested criminals who committed different crimes. I was sitting in the front row, unaware of what was about to happen. The officials filled the mouths of the condemned criminals with gravel, tied them up, called them “leaflet distributors,” and shot them. That was the first time I witnessed a public execution.
Reward of Allegiance: Apprehension and Ideological Background Check
As North Korea is a socialist country, all the money people earn goes to the Party. The amount of tributes is a measure of loyalty; medals and office positions are contingent on those tributes. Since I made a lot of money, I received generous evaluations. I had my picture taken with Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il many times; and I received many prizes, Congeniality Awards, presents, and medals. However, in North Korea allegiance does not eliminate the possibility of trouble.
One day, on my way to work, I saw a car on the street and a NSA officer inside that I was well acquainted with. He opened the rear door and told me to hop in the car saying he wanted to ask me something. As I got into the car, not knowing what was happening; two people jumped into the car and sat on each side of me. At the same time, a driver jumped in and started to drive the car. Since the Security Agency arrested me in such haste, my family did not even know that I had been arrested. This was a typical example of government arrests: a person merely “disappears.” After a while, people realized that he has been arrested by the government.
The National Security Agency received a directive from Kim Jong-il to undertake ideological background checks on the chief officers of trading companies who had over-archie the national plan for three consecutive years. It was because “those chief officers spent a long time in foreign countries, long enough to swing to the right, and such conversion must have helped them earn a lot of money.” In other words, I was arrested and subjected to an ideological background check precisely because I made a lot of money and a large contribution to the national revolutionary fund. The more money one makes, the more likely one will face investigation. We, the chief officers did not know that secret; we worked very hard and forewent spending money on our families.
Like many of those who worked abroad, I underwent an ideological check. Only a few people survive the ordeal. Some die during interrogations, and others are sent to the Ideological Reformation zone in political prison camp. A few who survive are deported to rural areas to work in mines for the rest of their lives. I experienced all of these during the 8 years following my arrest by the NSA.
Torture at the Preliminary Examination Bureau
The department that arrested me was the External Information Bureau, also called the National Security Agency 3rd Department. Officials took me to a detention center and said to me, “As we conduct ideological check under our Great General’s consideration, we ask for your cooperation for the next few days.” Then they handed me over to the prison guards.
The guards first asked me to unbuckle my belt. They undressed me and gave me prison clothes without a belt or buttons. They provided rubber shoes which were much larger than my feet and torn at the heels. I was not allowed to wear these shoes in the cell; I was placed in a small cell with a toilet in the corner.
The guards ordered me to sit and stay awake without giving me any food. After three days of starvation, I could not think of anything. Then, they stood me up and made me face the wall and bend my torso towards my thighs with my hands toward the floor. No one can stand still in this position for long. If prisoners moved even a little bit, the guards would kick them in the groin, which is the severest punishment for men. The torture techniques they used that were developed from those used by the Gestapo and the KGB were the most painful and barbaric.
After going through six different branch offices of the National Security Agency, I was sent to the Preliminary Examination Bureau, where prisoners plead guilty and go to trial. Because I was arrested for espionage for contacting Russia, China, and the National Intelligence Service of South Korea, I was convicted of treason against the Party, the Great Leader, the fatherland, and the people one of the gravest crimes. Prison guards treated prisoners convicted of treason violently and committed atrocious acts to them while calling them traitors.
A preliminary examination, in principle, should end within three months, but the Bureau can arbitrarily extend the period for more than six months and detain the convicted even when it could not prove their guilt. Although the Bureau could indefinitely detain people until they die from torture and malnutrition, I was treated differently because of my acquaintance with Kim Jong-il; the Bureau could not kill me because Kim Jong-il might look for me at any time.
However, because of that, the preliminary examination was extended to twenty months. During that time, I was hospitalized twice due to torture, malnutrition, and other diseases. After the Preliminary Examination Bureau failed to prove my espionage, it sent me to the Daesuk-ri region of the Yodok Political Prison Camp (Camp No.15) for the “re-revolutionizing and proletarianizing” process.
While the Bureau waited for enough people to gather until it could send them to the re-revolutionizing zone, it ordered me to do chores such as cleaning. One time, I cleaned a courtroom, which was small and similar to what I had seen in a movie. Seats for the chief of the preliminary examination bureau, a judge, and a prisoner were separated by wooden planks. On the wall behind the judge’s seat was the National Emblem of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, not a portrait of Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il. There were chairs for others, but only about eight of them. When I asked people about the courtroom, they said that the convicted were tried here and sent to different places according to the sentences. If sentenced to death, a guard makes the criminal kneel, grabs his forehead and neck, and quickly twists his neck until it snaps because the death row convicts “do not deserve a bullet.”
In a different room, there were three rows of TV screens to monitor all the rooms of the Bureau including the room that I was in. Some guards would monitor the rooms via TV screens and others walked around the rooms. When the guards walked around the rooms, some patrolled one side while the others took care of the other side to make sure that every room was covered.
The rooms were placed as follows. In the center of a big room, a number of small cells were hung from the ceiling, with their cell floors about 50cm above the floor of the big room, connected by three stair steps. Like a zoo cage, each small room had the iron grating on one side and the walls on the other sides. The prison looked like a bird nest. Since prisoners had to sit with their backs toward the grating, they could not see when the guards came to their rooms and thus their nerves would always be on edge. If the prisoners budged a little bit or dozed off, the guards would whip the prisoners through the grating. The prison was designed in such a way that the guards could beat prisoners badly at any time without warning.
On the front wall was a one-meter-high door with a food hatch below and a one-sided mirror above. Prisoners had to sit cross-legged with their eyes on the mirror. The only thing they were allowed to do was to swap leg positions; all other movements were forbidden. Hands were always to be kept on knees; putting them on thighs was unacceptable.
Since the cells were hung from the ceiling, they made a loud sound whenever the prisoners moved. There were wiretaps underneath the floors of the small rooms; the guards could even hear the prisoners breathing. As the prisoners might have attempted suicide after experiencing miserable lives in the cells, the guards kept a close eye on the prisoners at every moment.
The prisoners held one finger up when they needed to pee, two fingers when they had to poop, and three fingers when they wanted to drink water. However, the prison guards never responded to the three-finger-up sign. When I held up one finger, the guards knocked twice as a sign of approval. Then, as I was not allowed to stand up, I crawled to the toilet to pee. Again, I could not stand up while I was peeing.
Since the prison door was rusty, it made a noisy, squeaky sound whenever the guards opened it. That way, they could not even dare to secretly release the prisoners. When the guards took a prisoner out, they first opened a food hatch and called him, “Number X, come out!” (Every prisoner was called by his prison number). To make sure that a prisoner did not attack the guards, they did not let him face them while they fettered him. Then, the guards told him to go. Often a prisoner could not walk after sitting in a cell for two months; two guards would have to take him by the arms.
Sometimes prisoners were exposed to cruel treatment without any reason. Guards would command prisoners to bring their face near the food hatch and open their mouth. Then guards would spit in the prisoner’s mouth. Beatings commonly occurred; for instance, if a prisoner made noise he would be ordered to put his hands out through the hatch to be beaten by a club.
Life at Yodok Political Prison Camp
After twenty months at the Preliminary Examination Bureau, the prison guards let me out of my cell and took me to a different place by bus. The guards stuck bedding and clothes in two of my packs and loaded them into a truck. I did not know where I was going; it was not until after I got off the bus that I found myself in the countryside at what I was later to realize as the infamous Yodok Political Prison Camp (Camp No. 15). Personnel assigned new prisoners to different platoons and held an orientation session. After a month-long training exercise, prisoners were deployed to companies. There, they practiced communal living but at the same time had to take care of themselves.
Life at Yodok was at least a little better than at the National Security Agency; compared to the Agency, Yodok was like a sanatorium. The prison camp was divided into different districts depending on the seriousness of the crime. I was assigned to the most comfortable district. At this place, there were some beatings, but as long as prisoners did not make any trouble, they were not tortured. Due to my experience at the Forestry Representative, security officers assigned me to logging work. I cut down trees and processed timber into planks and rods that would be used to build houses and fences for NSA agents. Soon, the officers appointed me as independent platoon commander.
We ate thin corn soup, since prisoners could not digest corn grains. There was no stew or side dishes except watery soup with little greens inside. We were permitted to eat rice only twice a year: on February 16th, Kim Jong-il’s birthday and on April 15th, Kim Il-sung’s birthday (Day of Sun). On these days, a bowl of rice simply melted on my tongue and turned into a sublime flavor as I swallowed.
The most horrible thing in Yodok was diarrhea. There, diarrhea meant death. According to my common knowledge and what I have learned in South Korea, one should not eat fatty food when one suffers from diarrhea. However, at Yodok, officers dropped some oil into the soup of prisoners with severe diarrhea or serious malnutrition. Then, diarrhea went away because it hardened the feces.
Release and Defection
When I was released from the Yodok Prison Camp, the officials read from a script: “On (date of release), due to the consideration of the Great Leader, . . .” They made me write an oath, took me to the place in which I originally worked, and announced a party policy in front of the Party Secretary, Organization Secretary, and Propaganda Secretary of the Party Committee. According to the announcement, all my status including work position, title, and party membership was restored thanks to the consideration of Kim Jong-il. When I went back home by bus, all my family - sons, daughters, daughter-in-laws and grandchildren- were already there. The officials announced the same policy again to my family.
After leaving Yodok I lived in Pyongyang, back in my original workplace. One day, one of my friends warned me not to leave for Russia because according to him, the Security Agency persistently tracked and harmed prisoners who had luckily managed to avoid the Party’s punishment. When I heard this, I realized that the Party was again after me and that I would not be able to physically survive the ordeal at a prison camp in my sixties. The only option I had was to leave the country. I first headed to Russia, the place I had become familiar with through my work at the Forestry Representative.
In Russia, I was contacted by the UNHCR Moscow office. The officers took me to a refugee camp in the suburbs of Moscow. There were Africans, Afghans, and Pakistanis as well as North Koreans in the camp; they were all waiting to be moved on to different countries.
There were ten North Koreans in the refugee facility, and two of them chose the United States and another two chose Germany. Five wanted to go to South Korea. When the Refugee Agency said that I could not stay in Russia and asked me where I wanted to go, I had no idea; I was already 62 years old.
In the end, although I had been educated to treat South Korea as an enemy, the country shares the same language, culture, and ethnicity with North Korea. Finally, I decided, “Since I have no place to go, I choose South Korea.” After waiting with the others in the refugee camp, I eventually came to South Korea in April 2009.
Free World and Its Infinite Potential
I started to learn more about South Korea when Korean pastors and merchants came to Russia after the 1990s. Although I was not allowed to contact South Koreans, I still met them.
It has now been three years since I arrived in South Korea. For the previous 60 years, I lived in North Korea and the Soviet Union, the countries that treated South Korea as an enemy. I served an army, holding a rifle against South Korea and gave my allegiance to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, the two leaders of the Revolution. Yet South Korea did not hold me responsible for my past behavior. Rather, South Korea provided me with many benefits, including an opportunity to become a South Korean citizen, a house, money, education, and Class I Medical Care Assistance. In contrast to North Korea, where communicating with South Koreans results in severe punishment; South Korea embraces, educates, and takes care of North Korean defectors in order to help them settle in the country. I cannot help acknowledging that South Korea is indeed a country for the people.
Although I have been to many different places in South Korea, nobody forced me to do so. Unlike North Korea or the Soviet Union, no one has taken me around while propagating an ideology to me or determining what is good or bad. Instead, it has all been up to me; I am able to take a look at everything and determine what is good or bad on my own. After my years in South Korea, I see that it is the Free World that is livable and enables people to make progress. I am now determined to repay what this society and the social system has given me to help me survive and settle in the country. I will strive to make contributions to this country and to help realize the reunification of the two Koreas.