Shin Dong-hyuk’s escape from North Korean gulag

As Shin Dong-hyuk crawled over his friend’s lifeless body, the 23-year-old North Korean could feel the electric current shooting through him. Luckily, for Shin, the two pairs of pants he was wearing, coupled with his friend’s corpse, shielded him for the most part from the deadly voltage pulsing through the barbed-wire fences.

Those fences had trapped him since his birth inside Camp 14, a North Korean prison on the Taedong River in the hills about 50 miles northeast of the capital city of Pyongyang. But on this frigid afternoon, Jan. 2, 2005, something happened at the camp that had never happened before — someone escaped.

Shin’s friend, Park Yong Chul, had made it to the fence first, pushing his upper body through the lowest two strands of electrified wire. The current, though, was so powerful that it glued Park to the fence, killing him within seconds.

As journalist Blaine Harden writes in “Escape From Camp 14,” the gripping account of Shin’s life in the forced labor camp, “The weight of his [Park’s] body pulled down the bottom strand of wire, pinning it against the snowy ground and creating a small gap in the fence.”

Shin crawled through that gap, but not before exposing both of his legs to the wire, incinerating his skin. In terrible pain, he ran down the mountain away from Camp 14, becoming the first known person to have been born in and lived his whole life in a North Korean prison camp, and then to escape.

By evening, after traveling a few miles, he had found a few ears of dried corn, some cotton shoes and a worn military uniform that would allow him to ditch his prisoner’s garb and avoid unwanted attention. Shin had no money but was trying to make his way 370 miles north, to the Chinese border, to freedom.

He was wary of running into police, but he was also thin and starving.

He blended perfectly into North Korea.

[Excerpt of Jewish Journal article, authored by Jared Sichel]

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View video clip of Shin Dong-hyuk

North Korean control even beyond its prison camps

When Amnesty International officials scrutinized new satellite imagery of a notorious North Korean gulag, what caught their attention was not what was happening inside the fence but outside it.

A network of what appeared to be guard posts enclosing a valley and a small town indicated not an expansion of the sprawling Camp 14, as originally thought, but authorities’ control of those living beyond the camp’s perimeter. (The best-selling book “Escape from Camp 14” by author Blaine Harden has shed light onto one corner of the gulag.)

Amnesty said it commissioned satellite images and analysis of the area. It found that North Korea has constructed a 12.5-mile perimeter, much of it on steep terrain, next to the camp to encircle a valley that contains mines, orchards and a small town. While the perimeter is marked by posts and not a fence, there is controlled access and some 20 guard towers that are more concentrated near the town than the camp.

“What’s most worrisome is that it seems to expand the scope of control beyond the formal boundaries of the prison camp,” said Frank Jannuzi , deputy executive director of Amnesty International USA. The rights group isn’t sure why that’s happening but says it’s another good reason to step up scrutiny of human rights conditions in the secretive nation, with its unparalleled restrictions on citizenry and its vast gulag.

Amnesty is pushing for member states next week at the U.N. Human Rights Council to support an independent commission of inquiry into systematic abuses and crimes against humanity in North Korea. That would add international pressure on Pyongyang, which was hit Thursday with its latest round of U.N. sanctions.

A U.N. special rapporteur on human rights is due to present a report on North Korea to the council in Geneva on Monday. Japan, Europe, the U.S. and South Korea have all indicated support for some kind of enhanced inquiry mechanism, and only half of the 47 member states on the council will need to vote in favor for it to be established.

German theaters to screen movie on North Korean political prison camp

A movie about a former North Korean political prisoner will be screened in theaters in Berlin and nine other German cities on November 8.

Director Marc Wiese’s “Camp 14 ― Total Control Zone” is about the dramatic life of Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a political prison camp, according to the documentary film company.

Shin remained in the camp for 24 years before escaping over electrified fences and making his way to China. He settled in South Korea in 2006.

“Our sole purpose was to follow the rules of the work camp and then die,” Shin said in a synopsis. “Sometimes people tried to escape, driven by fear of starving or being beaten, but they were publicly executed and became the object of hate for those of us who were left behind.” Shin has said inmates were subjected to torture, hard labor and arbitrary execution.

The movie follows the March publication of “Escape from Camp 14,” a book on Shin’s experiences by American journalist Blaine Harden.