On Nov. 29, 1996, a 14-year-old North Korean, Shin Dong Hyok, and his father were made to sit in the front row of a crowd assembled to watch executions.
The two had already spent seven months in a North Korean prison camp’s torture compound, and Shin assumed they were among those to be put to death.
Instead, the guards brought out his mother and his 22-year-old brother. The mother was hanged, the brother was shot by a firing squad.
“Before she was executed, my mother looked at me,” Shin said in a recent interview. “I don’t know if she wanted to say something, because she was bound and gagged. But I avoided her eyes.”
North Korean prison camp inmates [like Shin] were held in the “revolutionizing zone” at Camp No. 15 in Yodok in eastern North Korea. This means that the emphasis was on “re-educating” the prisoners. If they survived long enough to complete their sentences, they were released.
Shin is the first North Korean who made it to South Korea who is known to have escaped from such a prison camp, a “total-control zone.”
Shin “is a living example of the most brutal form of human rights abuse,” said Yoon Yeo Sang, president of Database Center for North Korean Human Rights in Seoul. “He comes from a place where people are deprived of their ability to have the most basic human feelings, such as love, hatred and even a sense of being sad or mistreated.”
[Excerpt of an International Herald Tribune article by Choe Sang-Hun]