The hermit state
ABC News is taking a team into North Korea. The president of ABC News says that "it will be fascinating for us and for our audiences to see what life is like there and try to get a snapshot of everyday existence inside North Korea."
The situation in North Korea is truly one of the saddest there is. It is a country where one can literally be sentenced to life in prison--which means a life of torture--for the smallest of offenses:
Han, a Communist Party official in North Korea, was walking home from work when he heard he was in trouble. He had smuggled a radio back from China after an official trip. He listened to it late at night, huddled with earphones on and shades drawn, to hear music that brought him a whisper of sanity and took him away from the horrors of his day.Han's family is likely to suffer dearly for his decision:
Now, someone had found it, or someone had told. ..."If a farmer or laborer had a radio, he could have been released," Han said. "But I was an official. In my case, it would have been torture and a life sentence in a political prisoners' camp."
At that moment, he made a choice faced by thousands who flee North Korea: He left his family to try to save his own life. He went straight to the Chinese border on that July day in 1997 and waded across the river, abandoning his wife and sons, then ages 4 and 2, and spent the next three years on the run in China, until missionaries helped get him to Seoul.
Since he left, he has had no contact with his wife and sons. "I think of them every day," he said recently in Seoul. "I try to forget it," he added slowly. "But they are my family."
Leaving North Korea illegally is a high crime; going to South Korea is considered treason. Families -- even distant relatives -- of those who do so might be blacklisted, stripped of their jobs, imprisoned or killed. Many find freedom more complicated than they imagined, and their present haunted by the past.A famine in the early 90s forced North Koreans to resort to cannibalism. One woman's testimony:
"Family members of traitors don't even get food rations. They are starved to death," said the wife of Soon Yong Bum, a fishing boat captain. The couple sailed into the Yellow Sea and down to the South Korean port city of Inchon last August. They had to leave her family behind, including her brother, a government official certain to be harshly punished.
"She cries about it every night," Soon said. "And I feel guilty."
When one is very hungry, one can go crazy. One woman in my town killed her 7-month-old baby, and ate the baby with another woman. That woman's son reported them both to the authorities.Political prisoners are held in concentration camps, where they are used for experiments. From The Guardian:
I can't condemn cannibalism. Not that I wanted to eat human meat, but we were so hungry. It was common that people went to a fresh grave and dug up a body to eat meat. I witnessed a woman being questioned for cannibalism. She said it tasted good.
In the remote north-eastern corner of North Korea, close to the border of Russia and China, is Haengyong. Hidden away in the mountains, this remote town is home to Camp 22 - North Korea's largest concentration camp, where thousands of men, women and children accused of political crimes are held. Now, it is claimed, it is also where thousands die each year and where prison guards stamp on the necks of babies born to prisoners to kill them.I'm not sure what can or should be done about this. At the very least, human rights reform should be a central component of any negotiations over nuclear weapons. And it seems absolutely vital that people be made aware of the atrocities that are part of everyday life for those unfortunate souls who happen to have been born in North Korea.
Over the past year harrowing first-hand testimonies from North Korean defectors have detailed execution and torture, and now chilling evidence has emerged that the walls of Camp 22 hide an even more evil secret: gas chambers where horrific chemical experiments are conducted on human beings.
Witnesses have described watching entire families being put in glass chambers and gassed. They are left to an agonising death while scientists take notes. The allegations offer the most shocking glimpse so far of Kim Jong-il's North Korean regime.
Kwon Hyuk, who has changed his name, was the former military attaché at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing. He was also the chief of management at Camp 22. Hyuk claims he now wants the world to know what is happening.
'I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber,' he said. 'The parents, son and and a daughter. The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth-to-mouth breathing.'
His testimony is backed up by Soon Ok-lee, who was imprisoned for seven years. 'An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners,' she said. 'One of the guards handed me a basket full of soaked cabbage, told me not to eat it but to give it to the 50 women. I gave them out and heard a scream from those who had eaten them. They were all screaming and vomiting blood. All who ate the cabbage leaves started violently vomiting blood and screaming with pain. It was hell. In less than 20 minutes they were quite dead.'
The number of prisoners held in the North Korean gulag is not known: one estimate is 200,000, held in 12 or more centres. Camp 22 is thought to hold 50,000.
Most are imprisoned because their relatives are believed to be critical of the regime. Many are Christians, a religion believed by Kim Jong-il to be one of the greatest threats to his power. According to the dictator, not only is a suspected dissident arrested but also three generations of his family are imprisoned, to root out the bad blood and seed of dissent.