I recently posted about an exhibition of photographs from inside North Korea, some taken by an American photojournalist, others provided by the state’s news agency. While the photos afford a rare glimpse inside the notoriously secretive nation, they remain fairly benign, clearly the result of the extremely limited access afforded the photographer by his North Korean minders.
While researching the post, I came across this story about a young man’s escape from inside a North Korean prison camp. It is truly one of the most horrifying accounts I’ve ever read. Shin In Geun was born a prisoner. “The…crime Shin’s father had committed was being the brother of two young men who had fled south during the Korean war. Shin’s crime was being his father’s son.” He knew nothing of his mother’s crimes or past–she never spoke of them, and he never asked.
Shin was one of an estimated 200,000 political prisoners inside North Korea and is the only one known to have escaped from the unbelievably harsh conditions of its labor camps. He was regularly tortured, starved, beaten and terrorized. He was 20 when he learned–from another prisoner, an educated man who had traveled outside North Korea–that the world was round.
This story is truly shocking, and there’s no reason to believe that the conditions Shin describes in the account of his memoir, written by journalist Blaine Harden, Escape From Camp 14, do not persist for many thousands inside the socialist state. When held alongside the photos from the exhibition, they take on new meaning. Not only do we have almost no idea of the goings-on inside North Korea, stories like this one only underscore how troubled and broken the nation is.