Shin Dong-hyuk’s horrific descriptions of his time in a North Korean prison camp became a best-selling book translated into 27 languages, made him a key witness before the United Nations and grabbed headlines around the world.
Now the publisher of the book and its author say has revealed that parts of the story he told weren’t true. Blaine Harden, author of the book “Escape from Camp 14,” said in a statement on his website over the weekend that Shin had changed “key parts of his story.”
“On Friday, Jan. 16, I learned that Shin Dong-hyuk, the North Korean prison camp survivor who is the subject of ‘Escape from Camp 14,’ had told friends an account of his life that differed substantially from my book,” Harden said. “I contacted Shin, pressing him to detail the changes and explain why he had misled me.”
Shin had previously said that he had lived his entire life in Camp 14 before escaping in 2005. He now says he escaped from Camp 18 twice before — in 1999 and 2001, wrote Harden in his statement.
Shin now says he was 20 years old when he was tortured as a punishment for escaping, wrote Harden. His original account indicated that he was tortured when he was 13.
Shin had described in the book that his finger was chopped off by an angry guard after he dropped a sewing machine in Camp 14. Now, Shin told Harden that his finger was mangled as a guard pulled out his fingernails as punishment for escaping.
“When I agreed to share my experience for the book, I found it was too painful to think about some of the things that happened,” Shin told Harden.
Human rights activists argue that changes in Shin’s account do not ultimately affect his testimony, saying they still believe he was tortured and that his story highlights the horror of prison camps.