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“Your legs and arms are tied together then hung in mid-air. After being beaten like this, you end up giving up on life.”
Defectors speak of their horrific experiences from the notorious Hoiryeong Safety Agency’s underground prisons and Yoduk Gulag.
In March, the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (representative, Benjamin Yoon) published a report titled, “North Korea: Republic of Torture.” On the 2nd, a foreign press conference was held indicting the systematized and organized state of torture in North Korea.
At the press conference, Kim Kwang Soo (pseudonym, 44, entered Korea 2004) shared his experiences. He said, “During the time I was confined at Hoiryeong Safety Agency’s prison, I was beaten up, all my teeth were broken and my head was smashed. I looked so hideous as my original weight 75 kg dropped to about 38kg.”
Kim spoke of “underground prisons” which were different to the normal prisons experienced by the common defector. He said, “No matter how much you cry of distress in the underground prisons, no one can hear you. No one knows of your pain and so you inevitably face the horrors of death.”
While imprisoned in the underground cells, Kim said that he no choice but to confess to an espionage at the demand of the safety agents. In 1999, he experienced these tortures at Hoiryeong Safety Agency and in 2000 endured the Camp 15 in Yoduk.
He spoke of the worst torture in existence known as the “Pigeon torture.” “Your hands are tied behind your back and handcuffed to an iron bar. You cannot sit or stand. After a day of being in this position, your muscles tense up and your chest sticks out like the breastplate of a bird. Your whole body becomes stiff” he said.
Kim Eun Chul (pseudonym, entered Korea 2006) spoke of his experiences at the Camp 15 in Yoduk. He said, “Your legs and arms are tied together then hung in mid-air. After being beaten like this, you end up giving up on life.”
Kim said, “Once you are made to sit and stand 500 times with a blanket on top of you in a hot stuffy room full of prisoners, you no longer see yourself as human.”
On the same day, the Citizens’ Alliance introduced a list of shameful torture, beatings and cases such as the pigeon torture, sit/stand torture and reading the newspaper torture, where a person is forced to maintain a position like he/she is reading a newspaper but without a chair.
Lee Young Hwan, who led the research for the Citizens’ Alliance said, “Prior to 1999, torture was executed randomly and ruthlessly without any basis of criminal offense” and added, “With the increase of defectors since 2000 and hence greater numbers of defectors living in China and attempting entry into Korea, investigations have begun.”
Further, he emphasized the importance of regulations and protests by the international society to improve human rights. He said “As the international community continued to raise concerns over the improvement of human rights in North Korea around 2002/3, we learned that Kim Jong Il had made an order for leniency on common defectors.”
The report published in March conducted in-depth investigations over a period of 7 months with 20 defectors who had defected during 2000~2005 and had experienced torture from various detention centers such as political gulags, prisons, street kids and labor camps.
The report urged for North Korean authorities to change the methods of torture and pushed for an end to the forced repatriation of Chinese defectors as well as advocating intervention from the South Korean government and international community. A copy of the report was also sent to Vitit Muntarbhorn, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea.
The Citizens’ Alliance said that they would be proactive and increasing the awareness of North Korea’s torture situation and revealed that the report would be updated every 2 years.