politics

How one man escaped from a North Korean prison camp

Shin In Geun was born into Camp 14. Photograph: Manchul Kim for the Guardian

From Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden. Truly a remarkable read. I’d wager most people know vaguely of “prison camps,” but the explicit details of the mental, physical and psychological torture that happens behind those walls have never really been shared much. This (long) excerpt alone paints a picture of a terrifying, totalitarian regime, an Orwellian horror story where families are organized by oppressors and friends are non-existant. It is insane that such structured, barbaric, mass-scale torture camps can still exist in 2012.

From the Guardian:

His first memory is an execution. He walked with his mother to a wheat field, where guards had rounded up several thousand prisoners. The boy crawled between legs to the front row, where he saw guards tying a man to a wooden pole.

Shin In Geun was four years old, too young to understand the speech that came before that killing. At dozens of executions in years to come, he would listen to a guard telling the crowd that the prisoner about to die had been offered “redemption” through hard labour, but had rejected the generosity of the North Korean government.

Guards stuffed pebbles into the prisoner’s mouth, covered his head with a hood and shot him.

In Camp 14, a prison for the political enemies of North Korea, assemblies of more than two inmates were forbidden, except for executions. Everyone had to attend them.

The South Korean government estimates there are about 154,000 prisoners in North Korea’s labour camps, while the US state department puts the number as high as 200,000. The biggest is 31 miles long and 25 miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles. Numbers 15 and 18 have re-education zones where detainees receive remedial instruction in the teachings of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung, and are sometimes released. The remaining camps are “complete control districts” where “irredeemables” are worked to death.

Shin’s camp, number 14, is a complete control district. Established around 1959 near Kaechon County in South Pyongan Province, it holds an estimated 15,000 prisoners. About 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, it has farms, mines and factories threaded through steep mountain valleys.

Shin and his mother lived in the best prisoner accommodation the camp had to offer. They had their own room, where they slept on a concrete floor, and they shared a kitchen with four other families. Electricity ran for two hours a day. There were no beds, chairs or tables. No running water.

If Shin’s mother met her daily work quota, she could bring home food. At 4am, she would prepare breakfast and lunch for her son and for herself. Every meal was the same: corn porridge, pickled cabbage and cabbage soup. Shin was always hungry and he would eat his lunch as soon as his mother left for work. He also ate her lunch. When she came back from the fields at midday and found nothing to eat, she would beat him with a shovel.

Her name was Jang Hye Gyung. She never talked to him about her past, her family, or why she was in the camp, and he never asked. His existence as her son had been arranged by the guards. They chose her and the man who became Shin’s father as prizes for each other in a “reward” marriage.

Single men and women slept in dormitories segregated by sex. The eighth rule of Camp 14 said, “Should sexual physical contact occur without prior approval, the perpetrators will be shot immediately.” A reward marriage was the only safe way around the no-sex rule. Guards announced marriages four times a year. If one partner found his or her chosen mate to be unacceptably old, cruel or ugly, guards would sometimes cancel a marriage. If they did, neither the man nor the woman would be allowed to marry again. Shin’s father, Shin Gyung Sub, told Shin that the guards gave him Jang as payment for his skill in operating a metal lathe.

After their marriage, the couple were allowed to sleep together for five consecutive nights. From then on, Shin’s father was permitted to visit Jang a few times a year. Their eldest son, Shin He Geun, was born in 1974. Shin was born eight years later. The brothers barely knew each other. By the time Shin was four, his brother had moved into a dormitory.

The guards taught the children they were prisoners because of the “sins” of their parents but that they could “wash away” their inherent sinfulness by working hard, obeying the guards and informing on their parents.

One day, Shin joined his mother at work, planting rice. When she fell behind, a guard made her kneel in the hot sun with her arms in the air until she passed out. Shin did not know what to say to her, so he said nothing.

Continue reading the excerpt here. Escape from Camp 14 is out on Amazon on March 29. I have preordered!

2011 Photo Throwdown: Day 131

NDP candidate for Vancouver-Point Grey, David Eby (iPhone – May 11, 2011)

Premier Christy Clark narrowly defeats David Eby in the Vancouver-Point Grey byelection. (I was stationed at Eby’s campaign headquarters; colleague Doug Ward was stationed at Clark’s.)

Click here for the story.

Friend and colleague Erin Loxam and I have pledged to take and upload one photo every day for all of 2011. See how she’s doing here.

Politics x nerdery

 

A word cloud I created using a transcript of Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s speech from his Sunday morning campaign stop in Brampton, Ont. (He gave a nearly identical speech Sunday afternoon in Burnaby.)

For those not familiar, the more times a word appears in a block of text, the bigger it appears in the word cloud.

Here is my story on his speech in Burnaby.

WikiLeaks calls for Sarah Palin’s arrest

Considering WikiLeaks, politics and the Arizona shooting are all topics I am interested in, you’d think I would find a combination of the three interesting. Instead, the result is a sad and pathetic smash-up, an inappropriate attempt by WikiLeaks to draw attention to the organization by exploiting a high-profile tragedy.

The whistle-blowing website’s official Twitter account released a statement Monday night calling for authorities to “treat incitement seriously or expect more Gabrielle Gifford (sic) killing sprees.” (I find the mere reference to Giffords in this title appalling and shameful.) The call comes after a media shit-storm surrounding Palin’s “crosshairs graphic” that has arguably (and sadly) generated as much, if not more, attention than the shooting itself.

An exerpt from the press release:

Tucson Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, leading the investigation into the Gifford shooting, said that “vitriolic rhetoric” intended to “inflame the public on a daily basis … has [an] impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.” Dupnik also observed that officials and media personalities engaging in violent rhetoric “have to consider that they have some responsibility when incidents like this occur and may occur in the future.”

WikiLeaks staff and contributors have also been the target of unprecedented violent rhetoric by US prominent media personalities, including Sarah Palin, who urged the US administration to “Hunt down the WikiLeaks chief like the Taliban”. Prominent US politician Mike Huckabee called for the execution of WikiLeaks spokesman Julian Assange on his Fox News program last November, and Fox News commentator Bob Beckel, referring to Assange, publicly called for people to “illegally shoot the son of a bitch.” US radio personality Rush Limbaugh has called for pressure to “Give [Fox News President Roger] Ailes the order and [then] there is no Assange, I’ll guarantee you, and there will be no fingerprints on it.”, while the Washington Times columnist Jeffery T. Kuhner titled his column “Assassinate Assange” captioned with a picture Julian Assange overlayed with a gun site, blood spatters, and “WANTED DEAD or ALIVE” with the alive crossed out.

Before I proceed, a few things I think:

  • WikiLeaks is an important site that has made a definitive impact on the way we gather news and disseminate information and its impact and influence will continue to have an effect into the forseeable future. (The release of sensitive information, however, DOES need regulation.)
  • Julian Assange should not be killed or harshly prosecuted for a crime an average Joe wouldn’t receive the same punishment for.
  • Sarah Palin’s graphic is wholly inappropriate, especially for someone who has talked of one day running for president of the U.S.
  • Palin’s graphic didn’t CAUSE gunman Jared Lee Loughner to do what he did in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday. There is no proof of this.
  • It is absolutely appalling for WikiLeaks — an organization I thought would have been a little better equipped to deal with mass media by now — to piggy-back off the tragedy and call attention to itself.

Here is the WikiLeaks press release in its entirety. To me, it reads like this:

“We offer our condolences to the victims of the Tucson shooting. It was probably caused by violent rhetoric. We at WikiLeaks have also been victims of that. In fact, Sarah Palin wants WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange killed. Mike Huckabee, Rush Limbaugh and all these other people want Assange killed too. WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks, Wikileaks. Arrest all these people. Long live WikiLeaks.”

They then link to a website succinctly titled People OK with Murdering Assange.

This is not the time for this. I like you a lot, WikiLeaks. But you lost on this one.