Ex-prison guard viewed North Korean inmates as subhuman enemies

An Myeong Chul offers a rarely-heard voice from the other side of a prison network considered as merciless as those of Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. In the North Korean prison camps where Mr. An worked for eight years as one of the system’s feared, ruthless guards, Taekwondo was a weapon of subjugation.

“I remember practicing Taekwondo on the prisoners,” Mr. An said in an interview. “It was a way to control the inmates. For instance, if we had a high-ranking official visiting the prison camp, we would be told to show what we’ve learned and practice … Taekwondo on the inmate.”

Commanders drove home repeatedly that the inmates were enemies of the state, guilty of serious anti-regime crimes who deserved to be treated like scum, he said.

“If we were to help these prisoners in any way or be compassionate, we would be executed and our families as well, and we were given the right to kill any prisoner who attempted to escape,” he said. “I remember a colleague dragging a prisoner who was working in the field and executing this prisoner.”

Mr. An said he witnessed “a lot of deaths” of inmates, whether as a result of violence by camp authorities, starvation, overwork or accidents in workplaces like the coal mine where prisoners toiled at the notorious Camp 22.

In October, 1992, 300 of Camp 22’s 50,000 inmates died from an infectious disease they caught from a contaminated field mouse, he said. The prisoners were particularly susceptible to communicable illness, said the ex-guard, since they were fed the minimum amount of food needed to carry out their work tasks.

“The best way to put it is they were the slaves, and we were the slave owners.”

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Mother of Kenneth Bae departs North Korea without him

The mother of Kenneth Bae has left North Korea “more anxious than ever” to bring her imprisoned and ailing son home.

In a statement she released Tuesday, Myunghee Bae said she was able to visit her son three times and was relieved to see his health was improving.

Earlier this year, Bae, a Korean-American, was sentenced to 15 years in a North Korean labor camp for what the government called “hostile acts.” His family had not been able to see him for almost a year since his November 3 arrest in North Korea.

The North Korean government accuses Bae of setting up bases in China for the purpose of “toppling” the North Korean government, encouraging North Korean citizens to bring down the government and conducting a “malignant smear campaign.”

The country’s state media also says that Bae had planned what it called a “Jericho operation” to bring down North Korea through religious activities. They have suggested that Bae could have been sentenced to death, but avoided it through “candid confession of his crimes.”

Myunghee Bae, of Lynwood, Washington, said that she pleaded with the North Korean authorities to let her visit her son, and expressed gratitude for granting permission.

“I plead with our government to do everything in their power to secure my son’s release soon,” Myunghee Bae said Tuesday.