A guy called Kang Chol-hwan was a prisoner of Yodok political prisoner camp in North Korea for ten years before he managed to escape. He’s now settled in South Korea, where he works for a company that smuggles USB sticks into the north so they can have access to non government provided information i.e. the truth. What a hero.
Kang decided to join the guys at Reddit for an AMA yesterday and imparted the following information about his time in the camp and the current state of his country, as well as what his life was like now. It’s a really interesting – albeit heartbreaking and terrifying – read:
Daily life in the work camps is very mundane. We wake up at 5am and are forced to work until sunset. We are given lessons on Kim il-sung and Juche. We are forced to watch public executions.
We are physically abused — hit and tortured. I think of it as another form of Auschwitz.
North Koreans may seem different because they are brainwashed by the government; but once their thoughts change through the flow of information, they are the same as anywhere else. I think it is lamentable that people think of the North Korean government and North Koreans as one entity.
North Koreans may seem loyal to the government, but because they fear the government, they cannot speak their minds. For example, Seungjin Park, the North Korean soccer player during the World Cup, was at the Yoduk Political Prisoners Camp with me, but is now acting as the soccer team coach. However, he must hide the fact that he was at the prisoners camp.
I would have loved to escape with all of my family but that was physically impossible.
These days, the North Korean government seems to be contacting the North Korean defectors in order to allure them back to North Korea, often, while holding the defectors’ families still in North Korea as hostages.
I had listened to the radio for around a year prior to his escape, and had some idea of different conditions elsewhere.
However, when I actually arrived in South Korea and saw it with my own eyes, the economic situation was much different from what I had heard,’ he said.
The market economy was the biggest shock. In North Korea, there was only one type of toothbrush available but here, there were so many and I didn’t know which one to choose. Also, women’s rights in the two countries are so different. In North Korea, women are often treated harshly but in South Korea, I saw women smoking, which is unimaginable in the North.
North Koreans are disatisfied because even with the delayed reforms, the change they expect is not taking place. So the government’s unrest is growing.
It is comparable to being Christian. We pray before we eat. But we pray to the supreme leader instead of a god.
There is no freedom of movement during vacations so we cannot travel. We gather in groups to collect scraps of metal and paper to hand in at school but it isn’t thought of as a stress either. It is just a part of life.
There was a surveillance system but people do not question it because they have not experienced other government systems.
Sometimes we are taken in for questioning for touching the portrait of Kim Il-sung, for example if we see dust or dirt on the portrait. That is stressful.
I understood freedom because previously my parents had lived in Japan. They always told me to be careful about what I said.They feared the restrictions of the North Korean government. People near me started to go missing.
In August 2015, an axe was delivered to my office with a writing saying that if I don’t stop what I am doing, I will be murdered.
In 2012, an assassin sent from North Korea was caught following me and keeping track of my whereabouts. He is facing trial now. Currently, there is a police protecting me 24/7.
Although North Korea is threatening me, I cannot stop what I am doing. I am upset that although I have earned freedom, I am still facing threats.
I feel strongly about t the importance of spreading information to people inside North Korea, to empower them to understand the reality of what is happening and the world outside.
Geez. It doesn’t sound like life has been a picnic for him at all does it, or anyone living in North Korea for that