Public Execution by Hanging

Kang Chul Hwan, Child Prisoner of the North Korea Gulag  |  2005-11-10 16:17
One day in August 1985, we were instructed to stop work and assemble at the riverside. We were all surprised when we arrived there.
Look! Gallows. Are they executing the two heroes today?
There were already several thousand prisoners there from the other villages. For many of them, it was their first time to watch death by hanging.

Soon, two trucks arrived. The superintendent and several security officers descended from the first truck and two condemned convicts from the second one. It was a sunny day. The convicts could not even walk and looked miserable with blood and wounds on their faces. They looked more like beasts than men. The security officers had had to drag the bloody convicts. I felt like crying for them. I never saw them before but I felt like they were my brothers. Armed guards surrounded us all.

The final verdicts were read. It was so quiet that we could hear the stream running. The two victims had their heads covered with cloth under the gallows. All the prisoners were quiet. When the curtain was removed, we saw two men hanging, like dogs, their faces turned black. One of them was still slightly moving and we could see urine dripping from him. I fainted at that sight. Minutes later, I regained consciousness and heard a loud voice. All of you must pass the corpses and throw stones at them as you leave.

In August 1985, two former North Korean Peoples Army soldiers escaped from the settlement. They had been specially trained commando troops operating along the front line with South Korea. They had been arrested for singing South Korean songs and talking about South Korea and were detained here a short time ago.

They were both single and young and did not have any family in the settlement to worry about like others. They could not take the degrading treatment in the settlement and decided to run away. When they fled, thousands of prisoners were mobilized to search for them in the hills and mountains. We had sharp sticks to push into the ground inch by inch to detect underground hiding.

Remember, none of you can go home until you find them, the security officers shouted angrily. Nobody imagined that they could have ever escaped from the settlement because it was so heavily guarded with tall and electrified barbed wire walls and all kinds of security arrangements and traps here and there.

We searched for them for a week in vain. Two weeks passed and we were all so tired. Some prisoners said, Can you believe that they could have escaped from the settlement? Others replied, Otherwise, how come we could not find any trace of them in the mountains and hills here?

The settlement authorities finally concluded that they escaped from the settlement and extended the search nationwide. Only then, could we return home for the first time after 15 days. We all had a relatively easy time because the security officers and guards were so busy trying to catch them. All the prisoners were at liberty to guess what happened and so we talked about the heroes.

After 20 days, one of the escapees was arrested in another province and ten days later, the second man was also arrested. They had planned to defect to China. When they got out of the settlement, they decided to separate to avoid attention. One of them wandered in the mountains and got lost until he was arrested. The second man, however, successfully crossed the border and entered China. Unfortunately, he was arrested in China and repatriated to North Korea by the Chinese authorities.
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