One of the most powerful accounts of North Korea’s prison camps comes from Shin Dong-hyuk, the only known surviving escapee from Kaechon re-education camp 14, into which he was born in 1983.
Shin tells of guards lighting a fire under his back and forcing a hook into his skin to prevent him struggling, when he was just 13. He still bears the scars. His arms are deformed from being hung upside down; he suffers nightmares.
Shin’s story is especially remarkable because he had no comprehension of life outside the prison camp – he thought the world was like that.
Children beaten and starved, used as forced laborers, working in freezing conditions in threadbare clothes, surviving on grass and rats, seeing their parents killed, made to act as informers against their own families.
The prisoners are treated lower then animals, women routinely subjected to sexual violence and, if pregnant, their babies killed.
In 2005, at 23, urged on by an older prisoner, he miraculously escaped and now works with human rights groups such as Liberty in North Korea to expose these atrocities.
This back-from-hell defector puts all of us to shame for closing our eyes to North Korea’s persecution and control of its people for so long. His story must become as well known as The Diary of Anne Frank.