Escape From "Total-Control Zone", North Korea’s Papillon
- "I didn't know who Kim Jong Il was"…Shin Dong Hyuk from prison camp 14
In April, a Japanese TV show, the Nippon TV made a report on a defector Shin Dong Hyuk (pseudonym, 24) who had escaped from Camp 14, a political prison camp located in Kaechon, South Pyongan, North Korea.
Camp 14 is one of many North Korean prison camps, but is particularly known for it’s strict regulation and control. Shin escaped from the camp in 2005 and defected to Korea at the end of last year.
In order to reveal the truth about North Korea and the brutality of human rights to the world, Shin made a direct appearance on the program exposing his face on TV. Until now, there have been a number of people who have escaped the renown “revolutionizing zone” Yoduk Camp, but it is extremely rare for anyone to be able to escape the notorious total-control zone.
It is near to impossible to escape the total-control zone of Camp 14. Furthermore, the chances that a person will then successfully defect is even less. Hence, it is difficult to confirm the validity of Shin’s statement. Nonetheless, the probability that Shin was imprisoned at Camp 14 is high, governmental researchers claim.
Researcher Oh Kyung Sup of Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet) who recently published a paper on political prison camps said, “The total-control zone is known to be one of the worst places in North Korea to violate human rights” and remarked, “There have not been any testimonies about the total-control zone until now. This evidence will provide the basis for future research.”
The reason that Shin was able to be born in the camp was because his parents had met and married at the camp. According to Shin’s testimony, people who live an exemplary life at the camp are placed on a list and when the opportunity comes, two people are selected for marriage.
It is titled an “honorary marriage” and in conjunction to special occasions such as Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il’s birthday, the couple is permitted to share a room for 5 days. This day is one of the few hopes for the people at the camp.
Camp 14 is located near the Daedong River in Kaechon city. The river flows towards the west passing through Daeheung, Kaechon, Soonchon and Pyongyang.
At 11 years, Shin was separated from his mother and removed to a room where there were only men. It was a place where the windows were not made of glass but sheets of plastic. His only memories of the camp were eating corn and cabbage soup. He was not at all aware of Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il’s existence.
When Shin was 13, his mother and brother were caught while attempting escape. They were publicly executed. His brother was shot and his mother strangled to death. Shin was forced to watch this sitting in the first row. However, he did not feel any resent nor sadness. Through his interview, he revealed that he still did not have any such feelings.
Shin was also tortured because of this incident. He was hung in the underground gallows with his hands and legs tied together. Then he was burned with a brazier below his back. Shin was forced to work at the farms within the camp grounds. He woke up at 4AM and worked 12hour days. His scars incurred from the days living in the camp remain unto this day.
One day, Shin made a friend within the camp, who had once defected to China. It was then that Shin first heard about the outside world. It was then that Shin first heard stories about Kim Jong Il.
On January 2nd 2007, the two friends decided to escape while working in the mountains. Shin was able to cross the fence, while his friend held down the electric barbed wire. Shin bore severe scars due to the electric shock. Unfortunately, his friend died immediately. Afterwards, Shin hid in China for a year and at the end of last year, he defected to Korea.
Presently, Shin lives near Seoul and plans to further reveal the truth about political prison camps in North Korea.
There are two types of political prison camps operated by North Korean authorities to control and regulate the people.
The first is a “revolutionizing zone,” where people with little threat to the existence of the regime are confined. After a period of forced labor and re-education, people may even have the chance to return to society. Yoduk Camp 15 located in South Kamkyung falls under this category.
On the other hand, the “total-control zone” is for malicious people that must be removed from North Korea completely. Once you are sentenced to this camp, you may never return to society and must live there eternally. People imprisoned in the “total-control zone” usually meet their death fatigued from forced labor.
As the people in the total-control zone are considered unworthy of revolutionary ideals, there aren't even any photos of Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il within the camp nor are there any ideological classes on Kim Il Sung’s revolutionary history. In order to keep living, a person is forced to work 12~15 hours as a levy for some food. They must live in complete isolation and only engage in activities that will lead to production.
Excluding camp 15 in the revolutionizing zone operated by the National Safety Agency, all other camps are bound within the total-control zone.