People I Met In No. 15 Camp:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
By: Jung Gwang Il, former prisoner in the No. 15 Camp in Yoduk
I was born in China in 1963, and my mother and I immigrated to North Korea in 1968, when my father was arrested and imprisoned by Chinese police as North Korean spy during China’s Cultural Revolution.
After immigrated to North Korea, our family was stationed in Hoeryong, North Hamkyong Province, and after I finished elementary and secondary schools, I was enlisted in 1979, and served in 74th Brigade, V Corps of the Korean People’s Army. I served in Majang-ri, Cholwon County, Kangwon Province, near the DMZ.
After finishing military service in 1987, I was dispatched to Chongjin, North Hamkyong, and had worked as material collection officer at Chongjin Chemical Textile Factory until 1991. In 1992, I was appointed to officer of 824 Liaison Office of Korean Workers’ Party, and after working in Hyonjesan District in Pyongyang, I went to Munchon branch office of the Liaison Office in Kangwon Province, and had been at the branch office until 1996.
In late 1996, I was appointed to a general manager of Chonjing branch of the 824 Liaison Office of the KWP, and after having served there until October 1998, I was appointed to branch chief of Chosun Pyongyang Trade Company in November 1998. I was arrested by the National Security Agency on July 22, 1999, on suspicion of espionage.
The reason was my contact with South Koreans in China. I was blamed as spy and transported to Hoiryong NSA office. I was beaten by 5cm-wide stick and there are three scars still visible, and all my teeth were broken, so I had lived four years without teeth until I got treatment in China.
At the NSA office, beating and investigation repeated. While I was tortured in a ‘pigeon style’, in which both of my hands were handcuffed on back and I could not stand nor sit, my weight decreased from 75kg to 35kg.
Also, unlike above-ground jail, where defectors are imprisoned, political prisoners are taken to underground jail, and there was no toilet there.
There was not even a jailer, and even if we shout, no one outside could hear it. They told us ‘it is rather better to die there.’ Therefore, two other inmates died and only I survived.
In order to survive, I had to confess my ‘sin’, and then prosecutor came for investigation. Even though I complained unfairness, it was meaningless since NSA investigators and prosecutors compromised. After confessing, I was sent to Yoduk Political Prison without trial.
I was arrested in July 1999, and had been tortured until March 2000, and I falsely confessed myself as spy and then was sent to Yoduk. After arriving at Yoduk, I found hundreds of inmates, who were treated as subhuman.
Inmates were those who were involved in political incidents, students who studied abroad in Germany or China and criticized the regime, and ‘tongue reactionaries’.
I arrived at Seorimchon, a revolutionizing area for unmarried inmates. Originally, Seorimchon was not for single inmates, but after Kang Chol Hwan and Ahn Hyok revealed the existence of it, the unmarried inmates’ sector moved to it, security officers said. Seorimchon was built in November 1999, and I figured out this after finding the farming tools from Baeksan area.
The place I arrived was called ‘alien’s ward’, where I experience the life of prison camp for one month. Mostly, political prisoners have spent long period of jail time, unlike regular prisoners, so their body is so weakened that they cannot even move well.
Prisoners get up at 5 in the morning, and have breakfast. Their work starts at 6, and the food is merely some corns, beans on a bowl and a vegetable soup. Morning job ends at 12, and there is lunch time between 12 and 1PM. Work resumes at 1 PM and ends at 8PM. From 8 to 9, there is dinner, and after that, there is ‘political lesson’ until 11PM. Prisoners are mostly taught the Ten Principles of Single Ideology of the Party. They cannot go to sleep until they memorize the day’s part.
There are legal methods to kill inmates, other than beating, and that is to starvation. In the prison camp, in order to kill somebody, they order the person to work hard job, like sending to a farm to pick weeds, and then do not feed the daily ration for not fulfilling the day’s quota.
Then the prisoner dies within fifteen days, and that is death by malnutrition, not by torture, so there is no complaint. As such, the law of the jungle rules the Yoduk Prison Camp, in which father steals food from son.
In Yoduk, 600g of food is given for picking weed from 1,000m2 size farm per person, and if one meets half of the requirement, 300g of food is provided. If the workload is too small, no food is given at all.
Most of the inmates became weakened after long investigation, and they could not bear the hard labor, so they could not meet the requirement and died of starvation. From April, corn cultivation starts, and the corn seed were mixed with human feces, to prevent inmates to eat the seeds, but some inmates stole the seeds and ate them after washing them with water. They got colitis and died.
Park Gyong Il (42, former employee of Heungnam Chemical Factory) died of colitis after eating the corn seeds from feces. Also, another hard job is to fertilize corn with human feces; it is to mix human feces with water in a huge iron pot, and distribute to corn field, and all inmates are washed by human feces. Security officials force those who failed to do the job well to eat with a rice bowl that was used to scatter human feces over corn.
In fact, when scattering human feces, there are feces all over the clothes and shoes, so it is stinking bad. In winter, inmates saw and carry logs, tied by iron string and this was the hardest job. Carrying the logs for 4km, four times a day, is the daily workload. Since the log’s width is 30cm and height is longer than 4m, it is very difficult to carry the logs, and also the road is very steep so there are many accidents.
Many inmates faced accidents while carrying logs during winter and the wounded could not fulfill the daily workload, so they could not eat full ration. As a result, many died of malnutrition.
Song Geun Il (60 at that time, former brigadier commander of the7Th Directorate of Korea People’s Guard) died of malnutrition because he could not receive ration well after wounded while carrying logs.
Cha Gwang Ho (59, former reporter of Korea Central Broadcasting Committee) died of malnutrition after his ration was reduced because he could not work due to back wound he got from carrying logs. Kim Gyong Chon (58, former photographer of Korea Central Broadcasting Committee) also died of malnutrition after wounded while carrying logs on frozen road.
Security guards regard such death as not important, and they even enjoy seeing inmates’ suffering. They put corn cakes at wharf as prize for the inmate who comes with most logs. Then inmates struggle to get the corn cake, hitting and pushing each other, and many died of falling into cliff. Security guards enjoy watching this scene.
Also, security guards can ‘legally’ kill the inmates they do not like by sending them to difficult work site so that the inmates could not fulfill the daily workload. Then, the dead is buried with makeshift coffin, without a nametag, and after a year, no one will recognize who is buried at the grave.
I was imprisoned in Yoduk in April 2000 and released on April 12, 2003.
I defected on April 30, 2003, and entered to South Korea on April 22, 2004. But I have nightmare of being taken to the prison camp at night, and sometimes I have to rely on sleeping pill to get sleep.
Currently, I am working as a director of NK Gulag, to liberate the inmates of North Korea’s prison camps from the dictatorship.