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Stories of Brutality - 1

Dead Bodies of Political Prisoners Are Dismembered
to Avoid Discovery and Identification

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 the North Korean society that he committed suicide at the age of 50 by plunging to his death from a 3rd story apartment on April 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.

I was 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 to a 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 else 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 of detention by the police 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 down. 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!”

There 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 man in the 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.

The 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 October 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 wonderful arrangements they have made for us to arrive and settle down in South Korea. How can I fully thank God and South Koreans!