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The tyrant who forces mothers to drown their babies: Survivors of brutal North Korean regime reveal the chilling truth about the world’s most horrific torture camps
The young prisoner stood motionless in the office of the factory manager. Next to him stood the chief foreman and the floor foreman, who had reported him for his grave offence.
‘What were you thinking!?’ the manager screamed. ‘Do you want to die?’
Of course, he did not want to die — he was just 22 years old — but he knew, after many years in the brutal hell of North Korea’s Camp 14, that life was very cheap.
His ‘offence’ was severe indeed: he had accidentally dropped a sewing machine down a stairwell, and it was beyond repair.
‘Even if you die, the sewing machine can’t be brought back,’ the manager shouted. ‘Your hand is the problem!’
The chief foreman took hold of his right hand and, with a large kitchen knife, cut off the prisoner’s middle finger, just above the first knuckle.
Incredibly, the prisoner felt that he’d got off lightly. ‘I thought my whole hand was going to be cut off at the wrist,’ he said, ‘so I felt thankful and grateful.’
Shin Dong-hyuk’s story of how he lost his finger is just one of the many horrors being recounted this week at a United Nations commission of inquiry in Seoul, South Korea.
The commission are interviewing some 30 defectors who are fortunate enough to have slipped from the grasp of one of the vilest regimes the world has ever seen.
Mr Shin, who testified on Monday, is one of the more well-known defectors. He has recently published an account of his experiences in a book, Escape From Camp 14.
At times, the stories told by Mr Shin and his fellow defectors are almost too unbearable to hear — but it is the intention of the commission to publicise such acts of terror committed by the regime.
It is hoped news of them will trickle across the border into North Korea, alerting its benighted people to what has been done in their name since the despotic Kim family took control in 1948.
The 30 witnesses are just a handful of the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners incarcerated in a network of North Korean ‘kwan-li-so’ — best translated as ‘political penal-labour colonies’.
In these colonies, three generations of families are held for life, often on the basis that a single family member was once deemed guilty of an offence against the regime. The supposed ‘crime’ which saw
Mr Shin born at Camp 14 in 1982 was that his two uncles had tried to flee the country in the mid-Sixties.
Mr Shin’s parents were both prisoners, and their marriage had been arranged in the camp. If their baby had been born out of what passes for ‘wedlock’, then he would not have been allowed to live and they would have been executed for having ‘sexual contact without prior approval’.
Another defector, Jee Heon-a, told the commission how one mother was forced to kill her own baby by holding it down in a bowl of water.
‘The mother begged the guard to spare her, but he kept beating her,’ Ms Jee said. ‘So the mother, her hands shaking, put the baby face down in the water. The crying stopped and a bubble rose up as it died. A grandmother who had delivered the baby quietly took it out.’
Mr Shin testified that his first memory as a toddler was watching a public execution, and that he had seen two or three per year since.
Many of those executed are those caught trying to escape.