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Unforgettable Misery in Hoeryeong Security Agency and Yodeok Political Prisoner Camp
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2016-01-25 17:50:00
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Unforgettable Misery in Hoeryeong Security Agency and Yodeok Political Prisoner Camp*

Gwang-Soo KIM (Alias)
Former Prisoner at Yodeok Political Prisoner Camp
Arrived in South Korea, in April 2004

I was born in Yenji, China, but I used to live in Hoeryong since our family had moved to North Korea when I was seven. My last residence in North Korea was in Gooeup-ri, Yodeok County, South Hamgyeong Province, because I spent 3 years in the No.15 Yodeok Political Penal-labor Colony (PPC, Gwalliaso) since July 1999. When I was transferred to Yodeok PPC, my residence record was also transferred to Yodeok. I was released after full three years of imprisonment.

Ruthless Torture in the Underground Cell, Hoeryeong Security Agency

I was first arrested in Hoeryeong in July 1999. When the security agents burst into my house and took me out with them, I was sleeping for a while after drinking a little liquor. I should have run away, but I followed them to the Hoeryeong City Security Agency, for I believed I had not done any serious wrong. I was put into an underground cell for a week. In a week, two security agents investigated me. The investigator was the chief of the security department of Oksan Factory in Hoeryeong named Yong-Soo JI, who tortured me severely for nine months. Later, the security agency of North Hamgyeong Province, higher than that of Hoeryeong City, investigated me. I remember two directors of the security agency, whose name were Chang-Joo YOON and Sang-Soo CHOI. They were doing more than what they were ordered to do by KIM Jung-Il. CHOI was the very one that returned a Korean prisoner of war who had escaped to China.  

The place I was taken to was the underground prison in the security agency. On entering the prison, they beat me with five by five centimeter thick wooden club relentlessly. I denied all the charges for two hours, so I was beaten severely and got the back of my head broken. Still I have three scars on my head. When I was bleeding here and there after beating with timbers, they made me sit on knees with my arms crossed at the back and kicked my thigh. 

All my teeth were broken in the course of investigation in the security agency, so I had to live without any tooth for four years. As no dental care was given to me in North Korea, I had to seek for it in China in five years. There was a repeated beating and interrogation in the security agency.   

Among the tortures that did not allow any sleep, most infamous was the so-called "pigeon torture". As handcuffed and arms were tied at the back to the lattice, I could not either stand up or sit down, muscles on the shoulders paralyzed in a day, bones seemed to break through the bosom, and the whole body got paralyzed. 

Prisons on the ground were for those ordinary escapers and the underground ones were for political criminals or other espionage criminals, which were without guards. They do not care whether the prisoners die or not. They even told that it was better for the prisoners to die. When tied long, I got gradually dumb and all the body paralyzed, but I could urinate and move the bowel. But, they did not even allow me to go to toilet, so I had to make my pants dirty. Even if I screamed in the underground cell, people on the ground did not hear. There were two more prisoners in the underground prison, but they all died.  

One day, I was too hungry and I said to them I would confess if they gave me some food. They gave me a lot of food and I ate them. But, after eating the food, I denied all the charges, so I was beaten even more severely. When I was first arrested, I weighed 75kg, but in the course of investigation, my weight decreased to 38kg.

Though I never did spying, I had to make a false confession due to the prolonged investigation and endless beating. They said, "You won't get out of here alive. If you do not approve of the charges, you will go out dead." Above all, I feared if I would die for the cruel torturing. Later, I became too weak and they did not beat me any more. Just to survive, I made a false confession. 

At the last stage of the investigation, the head of the prosecutor's office of the city security agency came to inspect whether or not the charges were true. I said to him that I had to make a false confession for fear of the relentless torture. Then, the security agent who investigated me came over to me shouting "Can't you tell the truth?" and beat me again. The prosecutor's role was to inspect whether or not all the charges were true or not, but those investigators of the security agency bribed him to support their position, so there was almost no room for changing the situation. 

Meals were almost made of trash, mostly the leftover from the meals of the security agents. Even more, there was no guard in the underground prison and meals were given once in every two days. When I was suffering from serious fever, nobody paid any attention to me. No blanket or mattress was provided. No clothes were given, so I had to wear the same in winter as I was arrested in July. As I look back on those days, I still feel so terrible. After I approved of the charges they imposed on me at the Hoeryeong City Security Agency, there was no other procedure that followed. When I got out of the underground prison and went up to the prison on the ground, only a parcel of blanket was waiting for me. I guess it was the blanket I took from my house. To my luck, I could survive with the aid from my friend who was working at the security agency of the North Hamgyeong province. In April 2000, I was sent to the infamous Yodeok PPC to spend three more years of formidable imprisonment.

Three Years’ Enforced Labor in Yodeok

In the Yodeok, there is ‘New Inmates Units (Oeraeban)’ in where new arrivals get trained for one month on general rules and regulations; the training is about daily duties and workload. If the daily assigned workload was not done, there is no ration for the day. The workload for a person per day is picking weeds out of 350-pyong field (about one quarter of an acre). When a prisoner managed to do all his work, 600g of food is given, and when he finished the half, the half (300g) of food is only the amount the inmate can get. 

Depending on how well you have fulfilled the workload, the amount of ration would be prorated. If the work is unsatisfactory, you will end up getting nothing on that day.  For a month, the new inmates get trained as they work in order to make them get used to the routine. They have their own shelter and about thirty people arrive in the new inmates units every month. 

The new arrivals were mostly political criminals; they were the ones who are related to a political event in North Korea, study abroad students who were critical of the system, grumbler, those who had a German (or Chinese) education, were mostly Choel Woo JEON’s classmates, and once were dignitaries (in Surveillance bureau of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, and etc.), and so on.

After the training, the new inmates are stationed at each Work Units. The Security Guards tend not to use violence against prisoners. However, there were, for example, slight beatings when the unit leaders or prisoners with some responsibility made some mistakes. Nevertheless, there was no reckless beating.

In Yodeok, there is a way of killing prisoners without using violence. That is, starvation, which is believed legal. Intentionally, the agents assign the inmates who were targeted for killing, for hard work which they can never finish. When they could not finish the assigned work, there is no food for them. With less food and endless and arduous work, they get weaker. Eventually, they end up dead. That is, death by starvation, not by beating. The cause of death is obvious, hence it is believed legal. This is the place where ‘the law of the Jungle’ rules and where father robs a son’s food for his survival. 

When someone died, they put the dead in thin wooden boxes and bury them in shallow graves. The graves are, however, made flat without any markings on them, so no one would know who were buried and where the dead were buried after a year. Once, a coffin was buried by a river, and maggots and flies were all over the spot during a rainy season. The inmates had to do the work they hated, so they buried the coffin too shallow.

I defected from North Korea in 30.April.2003 and came to South Korea in April 22, 2004. Even in the safety of South Korea, I still get repeated nightmares about being thrown into the Yodeok PPC. It is not easy for me to fall asleep without some alcohols. I know it is just a bad dream, but still I shudder at the mere scenes of nightmares.