Young North Korean woodcutter targeted in acid attack 

Border region of North Hamgyong Province as seen in early June 2019. Image: Daily NK

Daily NK sources have reported that a young North Korean is currently in a coma after suffering a hydrochloric acid attack to his face during a fight between woodcutters in Onsung County.

“The young man is not living with his parents and is currently in serious condition after the attack in mid-July,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK.

Onsong County and its surroundings are located at the far northern end of the Changbai Mountain Range and has abundant forests. The Onsung County People’s Committee recently selected some young to middle-aged workers from the local population to cut wood on Buk Mountain in Chongsan County for use in local construction projects.

The workers, who were organized into teams of seven, included one young man whose social status (songbun) was poor and was discriminated against by the others. He was the victim of the acid attack, the source said.

The woodcutters reportedly threw the acid onto the young man’s face during an argument. They had originally prepared the acid to use against wild animals in the forest. The young man who suffered the attack experienced immense pain and the other woodcutters splashed water on his face and held him up for more than an hour before taking him to a hospital. The man, however, later fell into a coma, the source reported.

North Korea’s medical infrastructure is extremely poor, and doctors would have difficulty treating such wounds. Doctors also have little interest in treating those who belong to families with political issues. The man’s married sister came to the hospital to help treat his wounds, but the hospital provided little to no assistance, the source added.

“The incident was reported to the local police, who started an investigation. However, the young man was in a coma and the perpetrators said that the man had thrown the acid onto his own face, so no charges were filed,” said the source. The investigation was more superficial than anything else, the source concluded.

The young man reportedly had a difficult childhood because his father had gotten into political controversy and was sent to a prison camp. On the condition that she would divorce him, the man’s mother and children were not sent to the camp. Their social status was poor as a result, and they faced a lot of discrimination.

Their background made it difficult for the young man to succeed in North Korean society. He was an excellent student, however, and had clear opinions on most topics, according to a separate source in North Hamgyong Province.

“The young man probably started to explain things in an intellectual way that one of the other wood cutters didn’t appreciate, and was punished for it,” he said. “People are saddened to hear that such a smart student with such low social status ended up like that.”