Pregnant N. Korean defector beaten, sent to gulag
By Yi Whan-woo
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has published its first list of North Korean human rights violations to enhance public awareness about the dire situation in the world’s last Stalinist state and put pressure on Pyongyang.
A commission official said Friday that the list contained the names of 278 prisoners including ranking officials who have suffered harassment, abuse and cruelty from the brutal military regime at correctional camps.
The list is based on the accounts of 834 defectors who were prisoners themselves or heard about the cases. The NHRC has received reports from the defectors since opening a department specializing in North Korea on March 15 last year.
Its report said Shim Chul-ho, a former Cabinet minister in charge of information and communication, was thrown into a gulag for two years for being critical of the military’s security service.
He was sent to a camp in 2001 after calling the service “incompetent” in tracking down South Korean spies. Shim was released in 2003 and reinstated, and is now deemed as one of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s trusted figures.
The report also carries a horrific story of a pregnant woman who was taken to a camp after being caught attempting to defect to China in 2002. A border guard hit her in the stomach with the butt of his rifle, and she had a stillborn baby in a prison camp she was sent to.
Another female was detained at a camp for a year when she was caught fleeing the North in 1999. The woman who managed to defect to the South later said she was “habitually and brutally beaten” and was forced to do long hours of hard labor without water.
“I had to crawl and drink water from the nearby stream,” she said.
The defector added she is infected with parasites since then and still suffers from disease. Another female defector said a guard habitually spat into her mouth and made her swallow it during her prison term from 1975 to 2001. “He would beat me if I frowned or vomited, so I had to make sure to swallow without showing any disgust.”
An Chang-nam, an official at the Cabinet post equivalent here to the justice minister, was confined in 1999 for having commercial deals with ethnic Korean-Chinese and bringing Chinese products into the country.
Yoon Yang-kwon, a diplomat, was arrested and put in jail on charges of using South Korean household products when he served in France.
A military security agent in Russia, Rhee Myung-ho, was called back and served a prison term for taking bribes from Russians.
Hong Soon-ho, a colleague of Kim Jong-il at Kim Il-sung University and military official, suffered persecution in 1986 for “betraying” Kim Jong-il.
The political prisoners included journalists such as Cha Gwang-ho from the Korean Central News Agency, the North’s state-controlled news wire service, who was sent to prison after criticizing Kim Jong-il. Cha blamed Kim for “being negligent about people’s living and only idolizing himself.”
Kim Gyung-chun, a cameraman at Korean Central Television, also was put behind bars for echoing a similar view on Kim Jong-il.
The guards at the correctional facilities physically abused the detainees, according to the commission’s report.
The NHRC said it will publish the collection annually to make North Korea aware that the South and the rest of the world are observing its inhumane acts.
“The list is also to let our people be aware of the horrible violations of human rights of the people in the North,” said Lee Yong-ken, chief of North Korean Human Rights Team at the commission. “Our effort will encourage people around the world to share political awareness, which we believe will put pressure on North Korea over their intolerable acts, and hopefully bring changes.”