If you commit a political ‘crime’ in North Korea, such as watching a foreign film, you won’t be the only one who gets severely punished. Your family – your siblings, your parents and even your children – will also pay a heavy price.
This is the testimony from one of several North Korean defectors now living in Seoul interviewed in the 20 minute report above by Sky news.
There are currently 25,000 North Koreans living in the south and all of them are considered defectors, many of whom spent time in the repressive state’s gulags where torture, execution, rape, starvation is normal.
It is believed that there are over 100,000 people held in political prison camps across North Korea at the moment. One of the defectors interviewed in the video is a 25-year-old man who managed to escape one of the camps and he now finds life in prosperous modern Seoul hard to believe.
“The most terrifying thing is that these people are dying and no one from the outside world ever knows,” says the man whose identity remains undisclosed.
He now lives with his mother who also managed to flee North Korea. She initially would not talk to Sky about her experiences inside the state’s prison system but then decided to.
“I have to tell this to the world, I am a person with a lot of unfinished work. I was there, all the torture,” she said.
The mother said the guards were:
“crueller than beasts”.
She also described the small cells where prisoners were kept in. They weren’t large enough for a person to stand in. If someone sat, there was only a little bit of head-space.
“You crawl in and out like a dog,” she said.
She lived like that for two years. Her crime was for being caught trying to escape her country.
Around 2,000 North Koreans manage to reach freedom in Seoul each year but the journey itself is one fraught with danger and loss.
The heavily militarized border that divides the North and South, means that the only escape route is via China. Their aim is to make it to a South Korean Embassy in a South East Asia nation where they will automatically be granted South Korean citizenship.
BUT if they’re caught in China during their journey, the Chinese authorities send them back to the North where they are either executed or put into a prison camp.
One North Korean lady told Sky she lost her child as they journeyed through China. They were caught and then separated. The mother was sold off to work on a farm while her young daughter was also sold off and taken away.
The child’s fate is unknown.
While freedom is an awesome thing, integration for North Koreans into South Korean society is not easy. The government appears to do its best to assist them with their new life but the defectors’ past haunts them.
It’s not easy.
“People in South Korea don’t understand our pain,” says a defector.