I am a 38 years old North Korean woman. My name is Kim Son-hi.
I was born in North Korea on January 8, 1965. My home is in 20
Pan, Hyehung-dong, Hyesan city, Yanggang Province, North Korea.
My father was an artist and came to North Korea from Japan in
1960 via 11th Voyage. My father was married to a North Korean
girl in 1964. I was their first child. I have two brothers
and a sister.
My father was so frustrated and disillusioned by
North Korean society that he committed suicide at the age
of 50 by plunging to his death from a 3rd story apartment on
2, 1982 when I was 18 years old. He had been frustrated by
the criticism against his work and had long been under surveillance
for listening to outside radio.
I was graduated from the Hyesan Teacher’s College in 1983
and became a kindergarten nurse for six years. I was married
on February 25, 1989 and had first baby daughter in the same
year. I had to live with my husband’s parents and became
very weak due to poor living conditions there. I was divorced
in 1990 and kept my daughter with me.
I lived with my mother who was a very active trader between North Korea and China and
I often met business men from China, who were interested in antiques.
Gradually I was involved with antique business and was arrested
in Pyongyang in October 1993 for handling illegal items.
detained by the Pyongchon district police in Pyongyang for 40
days. All prisoners were treated like beasts. Severe beating
and brutality were standard practice here. When meal is served,
guards would throw blades of spoon without handle into cells,
shouting “Hey, you beasts! Take this!” Prisoners
had to pick it up from the floor.
They took my money and items
of antiques for bribery and released me.
I became an orphanage
nurse in January 1994. About a year later, I was approached
by a Chinese businessman looking for used Japanese cars for import
from North Korea. I received US $8,000.00 from him for a car
from a dealer in Pyongyang.
In January, 1995, I was waiting for
my train for Pyongyang when I was arrested at the railway station
by the local police. At the police station, I found that I was
arrested in connection with a murder case, I had nothing to do
with. They alleged that I was the young murderer’s girl
friend. I vehemently denied and they held up a stick to beat
me. In the afternoon, I fainted at the sight of an angry policeman
with a wooden stick to hit me.
When I woke up I found myself
with my head on the table alone in the afternoon in darkness.
I wanted to go to toilet. There was nobody around and I opened
the door and it was very dark outside. I found somebody in
the darkness who showed me toilet outside. After toilet, I remembered
the US$ 8,000 I was carrying in my body and my 7-year old daughter.
I ran away to the Chinese business man and gave him back the
money and came home to pick up my little girl. I went up
snow covered hillside and lied on the snow in complete hopelessness.
I hoped I would just disappear like that.
All of sudden,
I found the same Chinese businessman who obviously followed
me to the
site. With his help, I went to China.
However, I was arrested
in China on May 27 in the same year after only about
4 months in China. At that time, my daughter was with somebody
and the arrest separated me from my daughter.
In North Korea, the murder case was over and
I was completely cleared of the charge but was interrogated by
the state security
agency about my defection to China. The treatment I was subject
to at the SSA [State Security Agency] was much worse in terms
of brutality and insect harassment than my earlier experience
in Pyongyang which was already horrible beyond my imagination.
I was released after three months because I had no previous
record of defection.
I was very anxious to bring my daughter from China. However,
On February 5, 1999, I crossed the border into China in an effort
to find ways to search for my child.
I was again arrested in
April after two months in China. I was detained for 3 months
by Hyesan City SSA for interrogation. As before, I was first
forced to sit on my knees to answer questions and stripped
to the skin and was forced to spread my legs and repeat sit and
stand motion so that any hidden items in vagina could fall
They allowed me to use toilet only twice a day.
It was a living hell.
On July 31, 1999, three men with black
glasses took me into a car. I thought I would be executed. Soon,
I found myself at the Provincial SSA. Detention conditions were
much worse than in the city SSA. Prisoners were allowed to use
toilet only once a day, the floor was full of flea and other
insects. Prisoners were not allowed to use their hands to keep
the flea and lice away. It was indeed very painful to use toilet
only once a day, to sit up montionless for over 15 hours daily.
The shocking punishment for slight motion of your legs or arms
includes beating heads with large sticks, beating hands with
an iron rod, pulling prisoners to iron bar repeatedly, leaning
with your forehead against iron bar for many hours. When prisoners
ask for a pillow, the reply was, “What? Beasts need pillows?
Forget it!” Some prisoners attempted to kill themselves.
Once I picked up a small nail and I hoped I could kill myself
by swallowing it. I could swallow it after wrapping it with some
vegetables but it did not kill me. I was sent into a small cell
with spider’s web. Soon, I found rats jumping up from the
holes in the floor and shrieked for help and jumped on the toilet.
The guards responded, “What? Rats? Eat them!”
was no water supply and I was so thirsty and I was ready to drink
urine. Rarely, very little water was running in the toilet and
I needed to drink the water from the dirty toilet. Prisoners
were allowed to use toilet only once day, strictly motionless
and speechless from 5 o’clock in the morning til 12:00
midnight when you are allowed to bed.
Each meal consisted of
200 to 220 grains of coarse corns with a little vegetable soup,
which is literally only supply of water.
Often, they wake up
the prisoners at night only to harass them.
During the seven
months I was detained here, I witnessed 11 deaths of beating,
undernourishment and typhoid. Once, I was so desperate that I
found myself complaining, “What did I do to get this punishment?
I am innocent, am I not?”
It was very cold winter day and
I was forced to stand near the windows at the passage of cold
wind draft. Often guards order standing up for 24 hours without
sleep. Of course, no one can stand up that long and lean against
wall or sit down when not watched.
Prisoners died of indiscriminate
beating and with hooks in 3 or 4 days. I was at cell No.
2. There were men prisoners in cells No. 3 and 4. There was a
cell No. 1 whose legs were broken when kidnapped from China.
All the men prisoners had red arms with little bumps as a result
of poison from human excreta when they had to pass it through
blocked toilet by squashing it. There was no water to clean their
hand after squashing the excreta and often they used urine to
clean the hands.
Once, I heard two guards speaking each other in low voice. The
subject was about the handling of dead prisoners. Their conversation
revealed that the dead body is taken to a mountain, dismembered
there and skull crushed for burial of dismembered part of body
at different locations to conceal burial and avoid identification.
I was released on January 27, 2000 because my father’s
brother, an influential leader of the Pro-North Korean Association,
was to visit North Korea from Japan. I was under constant surveillance
after release. Then, indications made me realize that my
re-arrest was imminent and I went into hiding in March, 2002.
I finally defected to China on May 25, 2002.
Note by the Interviewer: She was interviewed
at her hiding place in Yantai, Shandung Province, China by an
international human rights
volunteer mid-June, 2002 and was arrested by the Chinese authorities
on 10 July in the same year. She was again interviewed in Seoul
on December 2, 2004 and her testimony continues as follows:
I was repatriated to North Korea via Tumen border frontier in
the early September, 2002 in a bus together with some 20 North
Korean defectors, including Mr. Chong Sol-bong who was arrested
with me, a North Korean doctor from my home town. I went through
horrendous usual ordeals of dehumanization at SSA, Training Camp
and provincial police detention camp for almost 6 months.
SSA cells in Onsong district were so crowded with North Koreans
repatriated from China that prisoners sat up all day long in
the cells and on the cold cement floors outside the cells.
Last time I saw Mr. Chung Sul-bong was in the SSA cell in about
15 in 2002. He was hardly recognizable and his body was full
of injuries and bruises from fierce beatings.
In early March 2003, I finally fainted from
hard work and undernourishments in the provincial police detention
camp, a living hell, and released
on parole so that I die at home, not in the camp.
I was carried
to my mother’s sister’s home on my cousin’s
back. I slowly regained my health but the fear of arrest anytime
made me defect to China in March 15, 2003.
I had been in hiding in China for about a year when I was one of the groups of 460
North Koreans who arrived in Seoul from Vietnam on 27 July
2004 in two flights specially arranged by the South Korean government.
I am so happy now in South Korea and I am so
grateful to the government of South Korea and all South Koreans
for all the
arrangements they have made for us to arrive and settle down
in South Korea. How can I fully thank God and South Koreans!