The abuse North Korea inflicted on Otto Warmbier, the American student who died this week after returning home to the U.S. following more than a year of imprisonment, is something up to 120,000 North Koreans regularly experience in the country’s concentration camps, according to defectors and analysts.
Jun Heo, who was just a teenager when he was sent to one of the country’s concentration camps, said to Fox News that being beaten black and blue and tortured within an inch of your life was routine.
There were about 20 people stuffed into each small cell, he said. Everyone over the age of 17 was forced to work hard labor in farms from 6:30 a.m. until at least 8 p.m. Cries and screams became the soundtrack of life, but it was after nightfall when the most excruciating howls could be heard, Heo said. Hapless prisoners, trying to sleep, would wail in pain as their bony bodies broke down from starvation, while at midnight the “secret police” came to take women to be raped.
Heo’s crime? He had fled to China for a chance at a better life. It was November 2005 and Heo — plus 12 other defectors — crossed into China and was staying in a “broker’s house” in Beijing. The broker ordered the North Koreans to not leave the house, citing safety reasons. But on Dec. 6, the day before he turned 14, a barrage of Chinese policemen — armed with guns and electric batons — knocked down the door and rounded up the terrified defectors.
“I was two days in a Chinese jail and then sent back to the Sinuiju concentration camp in North Korea,” Heo remembered
After several months, he was let go. But in 2008, at the age of 17, a determined Heo defected again – this time for good. Now a 26-year-old political science major at Seoul National University and studying English at the Teach North Korean Refugees center, he wakes up every day with a self-inflicted pinch.
“It is like heaven,” Heo said. “I don’t believe I live here.”