이름 : NKSC
2013-10-16 14:25:03 | 조회 3685
Former child prisoner almost died three times during horrific decade in North Korean gulag
North Korea is estimated to have about 150,000 of its own citizens in a network of gulags across the country. Many are there for political reasons and to be “reeducated.” Prisoners are held in near-starvation conditions and torture, beatings and executions are common. On Friday, the National Post’s Tom Blackwell spoke to one of the few prisoners to have escaped as well as a former guard at a notorious camp.
In his frightening decade as an inmate of a huge North Korean prison camp, Kang Cheol-hwan could never be sure of exact numbers, but knew the statistics were chilling.
Of the 35,000 or more prisoners at Yoduk camp, about 10% died every year, succumbing to malnutrition, mistreatment, overwork or a combination of lethal factors, he estimates.
“I myself almost died three times,” Mr. Kang said Friday before speaking at a conference on North Korean human rights in Toronto.
“I remember burying with my own hands about 300 prison inmates.”
For many years, the horrors of North Korea’s gulag were among the darkest secrets of the autocratic, hermit-like nation. As one of the first defectors to speak openly on the topic, Mr. Kang helped draw the curtain on the Stalinist network of political prisons, designed to tamp down any hint of opposition.
His 2001 memoir about the years in Yoduk, The Aquariums of Pyongyang, is now a standard text on the gulag. He has continued to welcome defectors to his home in South Korea and track the regime’s activities.
The network of half a dozen camps, he said, is comparable to the gulags of Stalinist Russia and Mao Zedong’s China, but probably most similar to Hitler’s concentration camps, he argued, given the number of North Koreans who die behind their fences.
The Nazi analogy would undoubtedly be debated by some, but testimony by Mr. Kang and others has provided mounting evidence of the camps’ brutality.
He was sent to Yoduk in 1977 at age nine, one of several relatives imprisoned after his grandfather was accused of being an agent of Japan, where the family had lived earlier.
The camp was divided into the total-control zone and the less-severe revolutioning zone, where he was held. It was still “very harsh,” with forced labour from early morning to nine at night, torture rooms and “massive malnutrition,” Mr. Kang said.
“It actually depended on the prisoner themselves and how much effort they put into trying to survive — if they made an effort to catch insects or rats or snakes to supplement whatever food they were getting.”
Historians still debate what was the main purpose of the Soviet Union’s gulag, which has been much more thoroughly documented than North Korea’s. Was it, for instance, chiefly to boost the economy with slave labour, as some Soviet leaders suggested, or to liquidate dissidents and undesired ethnic minorities?
Tom Blackwell, @tomblackwellNP
Source: National Post/ Date: 2013.09.27.
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