The world has been paying special attention to the North Korean gulags especially after President Bush met Kan Chul Hwan, the author of “Aquariums of Pyongyang,” a former prisoner of a gulag.
There are many who North Korean defectors active in the movement for dismantlement of North Korean gulags.
The DailyNK met Kim Tae Jin, one of the leading defector activists against North Korean gulags. He is a former prisoner of Yoduk facility, known as “#15 Kwan-li-so.” Mr. Kim says his last homework left in his life is dismantlement of the gulags.
He was forcefully repatriated to North Korea a year after he defected to China. After he was interrogated at the National Security Office, he was sent to the Yoduk facility. After four years of imprisonment, he attempted defection again and was able to make it to South Korea.
Mr. Kim testified at the preparatory commission for the third adoption of the resolution for North Korean human rights of the UN Human Rights Commission. There, he protested about unimaginable reality inside the gulags where people even have to steal dog food to survive.
The DailyNK met Mr. Kim Tae Jin to hear the tragic story of which only those who have experienced ever know. As a new co-director of the Democracy Network Against North Korean Gulag. The following is the interview with him.
Please share with us your experience of defection, arrest and imprisonment in the gulag
I was arrested about one year after I defected to China. After eight months of interrogation with constant beatings and torture. After the interrogation I was sent to the gulag. There, “humane life” does not exist. Not only did we suffer from forced labor, sanitation situation was so bad, that lies walked across out faces but we were not to kill them because we were “not worth even to kill a lie.”
The prisoners of the gulags are treated worse than animals. The prisoners always said they would rather be in Chinese prisons. At least basic human rights existed in Chinese prisons and prisoners were not starving.
It is known that women are forced to abortion in the gulags. For many people such a conduct is logically unthinkable.
Although it does not happen to many people, but it does take place. Once revealed to be pregnant, not only is a woman forced to abortion but she also get imprisoned in a prison inside the gulag.
I fell in love with a woman inside the gulag too. There she got pregnant and we sought abortion secretly. We mixed iodine with distilled water and we drop it to a fish. If the fish dies (then it is proved of effectiveness), you put it inside the womb and kill the baby.
Guards found out about what we did and I was tortured in the ways I cannot describe for one month. After the torture, I was imprisoned in a room full of flees. Because of the abortion I had to serve one more year of imprisonment.
Some of the former gulag prisoners testify about infanticide. Are you aware of this?
Those who were repatriated after defection to China are first sent to what is called “dan ryon dae.” (detention facility) There some women are found to be pregnant. When they give birth, the new borns are killed suffocated with plastic bags covered in their heads. The reason for that is “Koreans are “single minjok” (homogeneous, one-blooded people) but the babies carry Chinese seeds.
Are only those who commit heavy crimes taken to the gulags?
No. There are many who are charged for nothing and serve 20 or 30 year sentence. There was a person who was charged for believing God and they cut the man’s arm. He got tetanus and he ended up with his arm lamed.
People did not have to commit heavy crimes to go to the gulags but once entered, they have to completely forget about the fact that they are human beings in order to survive. They live on snakes, frogs, rats, and even dog food. That is a living hell.
Public Execution not a Big Deal for the North Korean People
Have you seen a public execution in person in the gulag?
In the facility, anyone caught of escape are publicly executed. There is no exception. Everyone in the facility is called to watch the execution and the prisoners see it at a close distance. I saw about 4-5 executions while I was in the gulag.
How is the public execution in the common society?
It takes place often. People are used to it, so they are as indifferent as when they see their neighbors slaughter pigs. Although the North Korean regime holds the public executions to warn people “to not commit the same kind of crime,” people feel indifferent.
How about religious life in North Korea?
They say North Korean constitution guarantees freedom of religion but reality is different. Religion is not at all permitted in the society. One of the questions firstly asked to repatriated defectors are “have you met missionaries?” The government of North Korea requires people to only believe in Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
There are people who believe that there is freedom of religion in North Korea, but that is not true. The dictator regime spread false propaganda due to its relationship with the international society. The scenes of churches, temples, or pagodas are artificially produced pictures. The North Korean regime use religion only to induce more aid from the international society.
We are Forgetting the Value of Freedom and Food
Tell us about your future expectations.
We do not dream to achieve great works. We want to tell the world about the reality of North Korea especially about the North Korean gulags. That’s all. Because we are the people who have the experience of life inside the gulags, we understand those people who had to forget the fact that they are human beings in order to survive. We want to give them hope and strengthen to sustain.
You testified last March at the preparatory commission for the third adoption of the resolution for North Korean human rights of the UN Human Rights Commission. What was the response you got fro the people in Europe?
They were very much interested. I was grateful that the resolution passed for the third time. I believe awareness on the North Korean human rights and the network with them increased. I believe as much as it increased, I have more to work. Instead of waiting them to do for the problem, I believe I should take the first initiation.
What is your plan as a new co-director of the Democracy Network against North Korean Gulag?
North Korea is a place where you have to forget that you are human being in order to survive. I want to work to make the world know the fact that even the basic human rights does not exist in North Korea. The only hope I have is to make known how valuable the freedom and food I am enjoying are to our brothers in North Korea. I am grateful that I am a person blessed to do that.