|On Political Prison Camps in North Korea (1)|
On Political Prison Camps in North Korea (1)
My name is KIM Yong. I escaped from a political prison camp in North Korea on September 25, 1998. On October 22, 1999, I arrived safely in South Korea via China and Mongolia.
It was in August 1993 when I first entered the No. 14 political prison camp under the jurisdiction of the State Security Department. There I was treated like a beast and experienced things that you cannot even begin to imagine.
The horror of a political prison camp was a sudden interference in my life. I was taken in for a crime I did not commit and for being the son of my father, who I had never even seen. It took me almost a year of desperate struggle before I reached safety in South Korea. The one thing that kept me alive was the hope that I may someday stand in front of the Commission on Human Rights to let the world know the truth about political prison camps in North Korea.
I was working in the Trade Section of the State Security Department as an agent for the West Sea Asahi Trading Company, when I was arrested in May 1993. The authorities accused me of using a false identity to infiltrate the State Security Department. In a secret den in Maram of Yongsung District in Pyongyang, the police began to interrogate me. They asked me what my purpose was for entering the State Security Department and harassed me for my boldness in posing as a patriot, hiding my true identity as the son of a spy. They tortured me for answers that I had no way of giving.
The different forms of torture are too numerous to recount. Sometimes they put a wooden stick 1) with sharp edges behind my knees, made me kneel, and then trampled my body with their heavy boots. At other times, they would hang me by the shackles on my wrists, high enough so that I was forced to stand on tiptoe. At night water would fill the solitary cell up to my stomach, depriving me of any sleep. During the long hours under water my body would gradually swell up, making it difficult for me to keep my balance. If I fell, the guards kicked me until I scrambled up again in extreme pain and fatigue. During the three-month investigation period, I was taken back and forth between two dens: One in Moonsu, Daedong River District and the other in Maram, Yongsung District.
The endless tortures were wasted on me because I could not have confessed to something I had neither done nor known. If anything I was a loyal son of KIM Il-sung and the state. Raised in an orphanage since the age of four, while other kids played in the loving arms of their parents, I was more influenced by the Party and the Great Leader KIM Il-sung than by my own parents. Naturally, I grew up to be a faithful worker whose loyalty to the Party and the Leader was impeccable.
My tormentors threatened me with manuscripts of testimony written by my mother and Lieutenant KIM Kye-sun, who was the resident coordinator for the Security Department of Sohung County, Hwanghae Province.
What they wanted was my confession to our conspiracy, which, truthfully, I had no knowledge of! After three months of repeated questioning, threats, and torture, I was driven five hours from Pyongyang, going through five guard posts.
When I was finally let out of the car, my eyes wandered so that I could try and figure out where I was, but a quick order came from one of the men:
"You son of a bitch! Head to the ground and be still!"
The police escorts and the authorities there talked amongst themselves. A pile of dossiers was handed over to the latter. Soon after, the jeep I came in was ordered to leave me behind. Then a voice yelled out:
"Get in the car, asshole!"
I complied submissively only to feel heavy boots kicking my head, which they did to make me lower my forehead to the car floor. The assault came with a barrage of swearing:
"Stop sticking your head up like a son of a bitch, damn it!"
In my mind I saw death, and a wave of self-pity came over me. Everything was so wrong, so unjust. I had done nothing to deserve the cruel abuse and death that was sure to follow.
The car stopped in front of a warehouse where prisoners' belongings were stored. I was told to get out and completely strip, even my underwear. Instead I was given a rag to put on and stood waiting for what was to come next. This somehow displeased the authorities and another round of shouting and violence followed.
"I see you are still not disciplined enough. Sit down! On your knees!"
As I fell to my knees someone pushed my head down onto the ground. I later found out that there was a regulation in Camp No. 14 about what the inmates must do when any camp authority was present or passing by. The inmate must sit on his or her knees with head glued to the ground and turned away from where the officer is. The prisoner must remain in that position until the officer is out of sight, and only then can he/she walk, keeping ones eyes fixed in the direction opposite of where the officer had gone.
In a short while, two camp guards loaded me into a jeep and took me round the bend to where Mujin No. 2 Mine was situated. The No. 2 Mine inside Camp No. 14 was to be my new home. The security agent that escorted me to the site was to be my supervisor. As I had worked in the State Security Department, I knew full well that I could not get out of the political prison camp once I got in.
The establishment of the political prison camps was conceived by KIM Byong-hwa, who was then the head of the State Security Department, and carried out in 1972 under orders from KIM Il-sung. Before 1972, there were special districts set aside for the internment of families of defectors to the South, the people who had worked in the South Korean police during the Korean War, and pro-Japanese collaborators and their families,in the cities near the 38th parallel in Hwanghae Province, such as: Kaesong, Kumchon, Yong'yon, Jang'yon, Ahnahk, Eunyool, Chiya, Jangpoong, Kaepoong, Panmun, etc. These bad elements were deported in cargo trains to twelve special districts to sever them completely from contact with innocent North Korean citizens. All forms of communication with the outside world, including mail, were denied these prisoners. At the time, the State Security Department had not come into being, and the special districts were operated under the Social Security Department.
The more serious offenders were picked out for imprisonment in political prison camps such as Kaechon Kyohwaso and Soosung Kyohwaso in Hyongjin. 2) There are ten of these political prison camps, and in Camp No. 14 alone 15,000 inmates were assigned to hard labor. Aside from the estimated 15,000, there were children as well as some British and American POW's who were captured near Jang-jin Lake in South Hamkyong Province during the Korean War.
Despite the criticism of the international community, North Korea has not abated its human rights abuse, which is even now inflicted upon the person convicted as well as his/her second or third generation descendants. The atrocities against humanity are what sustain the principle proclaimed by the Sixth Party Convention, which says, The revolutionary goal outlasts the changes of time.
Camp No. 14 severely restricts any exchange of communication between inmates, especially between males and females to prevent reproduction. The authorities see the offspring of inmates as anti-revolutionary seeds that must be rooted out. The families are broken up by sex, with the exception being boys under twelve who are allowed to stay with their mothers. The inmates in these establishments spend their whole lives not knowing what is happening on the other side of the mountain. I heard that control in Camp No. 14 became especially strong after the inmates rioted in 1990; 1,500 people were killed and their bodies were discarded in an old, closed-down mine. An iron gate was erected, opening in the morning to let inmates out for work and closing in the evening after their return. Thus shut, the gate will not be opened until the next morning.
There is so much to talk about concerning my life in North Korean political prison camps, but for today I will concentrate on a few things I personally experienced.