After Shin Dong-hyuk’s escape from the North Korean gulag

Shin Dong-hyuk lived his whole life in a North Korean prison camp. After his escape from Camp 14, Shin spent about a month making his way through North Korea, making friends with the homeless underworld and hopping on and off trains between cities. Eventually, he reached the Tumen River, bribed a border guard and crossed the river into China.

He spent more than a year laying low in China. Well-fed but working for measly pay in people’s homes, he was wary of attracting attention from the government, which typically repatriates North Korean defectors, claiming they are “economic migrants.” If the Chinese government were to recognize defectors like Shin as humanitarian refugees, it would be prohibited, under international law, from returning them to North Korea.

In February 2006, after moving around much of China, Shin ran into a Korean-born journalist in a restaurant in Shanghai. The journalist listened to — and believed — Shin’s story, then smuggled him past Chinese police and into the South Korean consulate, which provided Shin diplomatic immunity.

After six months living at the consulate, Shin was flown to Seoul; soon thereafter, he moved to a government-run resettlement center. He struggled to adapt to life in the free world. His self-described growth has been like the “slow growth of a fingernail.”

Shin said he knows of no silver bullet for the North Korean crisis. But what he does know, and what disappoints him, is the world’s ignorance of and seeming indifference to the 21st century’s gulag — the same kind of indifference that allowed Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot to carry out similar political persecutions and mass imprisonments.

[Excerpts from Jewish Journal article authored by Jared Sichel] 

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 nuclear test also meant for North Korean regime opponents

Shin Dong-hyuk spent his first 23 years in North Korean prison camp 14, where he was tortured and subjected to forced labor. Another North Korean prison camp survivor, Chol-Hwan Kang, spent 10 years in Camp 15.

Kang suggests that Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test was meant not only as a message of strength to the outside world but also to potential opponents to the regime within the country. Both men say the international community must do more to help North Koreans, with Kang insisting the world should take advantage of growing feelings of opposition within the communist state.

Both Shin and Kang described life in their labor camps as defined by hunger and violence.
“Daily I saw torture, and every day in the camp I saw people dying of malnutrition and starvation. I saw lots of friends die and I almost died myself of malnutrition,” Kang recalled.

Shin still carries the scars of his experience on his body. Resting his right hand on the table in front of him, he revealed the missing tip of his middle finger, which was chopped off by a prison guard as punishment after he dropped a piece of machinery in a factory.

“I’m here outside the camp, but what I’m doing daily is talk about the situation in the camp,” Shin said. “I’m still in the camp in my head.”

After meeting Shin and hearing his harrowing account in December, UN right chief Navi Pillay called for an in-depth international inquiry into “one of the worst, but least understood and reported, human rights situations in the world.”

[News24]

North Korean labor camps compared to Nazi Holocaust

North Korea’s prison camps are a closed-off world of death, torture and forced labor where babies are born slaves, according to two survivors who liken the horrors of the camps to a Holocaust in progress.

“People think the Holocaust is in the past, but it is still very much a reality. It is still going on in North Korea,” Shin Dong-hyuk told AFP through an interpreter on the sidelines of a human rights summit in Geneva.

Shin himself spent his first 23 years in a prison camp in the secretive country, where he says he was tortured and subjected to forced labor before making a spectacular escape seven years ago – and giving the outside world a rare first-hand account of life inside the camps.

The 30-year-old is the only person known to have been born in such a camp to flee and live to tell the tale, and was portrayed in a book by journalist Blaine Harden published last year called “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West.”

While Shin’s comparison with Nazi concentration camps – where the majority of the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust were murdered – may seem extreme, another North Korean prison camp survivor, Chol-Hwan Kang, agreed with the analogy.

“Fundamentally, it is the same as Hitler’s Auschwitz,” Kang told AFP. With whole families in North Korea thrown into camps together and starving to death, he said the “methods may be different, but the effect is the same… It’s outrageous!”

Kang, now 43, was sent to Camp 15 with his whole family when he was nine years old to repent for the suspected disloyalties of his grandfather. He spent 10 years there before his family was released and later managed to flee to China and on to South Korea – the same route taken by Shin.

[News24]

North Korean Survivor Shin Dong-Hyuk

Little is known about the prison camps of North Korea where it is estimated that 200,000 are imprisoned. Many are born in the camps and generations of families are imprisoned because one of their relatives has been detained.

Shin Dong-Hyuk is one such case. He was born 26 years ago in Camp 14 in Pyeongan province, known as a ‘complete control district’, where the only sentence is life.

For most of his life all he knew was the camp, working 12 to 15-hour days mining coal, building dams or sewing military uniforms. If inmates were not executed they were killed in work-related accidents or died of an illness usually triggered by hunger.

In his own words Shin Dong-hyuk tells us about life inside one of North Korea’s notorious political prison camps, how he was tortured and how he was forced to watch his mother’s and brother’s execution.

But after the execution of his mother and brother, Shin Dong-Hyuk decided to try and escape. No one born into a North Korean prison camp has ever escaped before.

Shin escaped from the camp, leaving his father behind, in 2005. Now, he lives a new life in South Korea having discarded his original name Shin In Keun. A message to his father

Watch Anderson Cooper interview with Shin Dong-Hyuk

 

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.