Earlier this month, the Washington Post published an article revealing that our friend and prominent North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk had spoken with Blaine Harden, the author of “Escape From Camp 14”, to revise his story.
In his original account, Dong-hyuk stated that he was born in Camp 14, where his mother and brother were executed and he was tortured at age 13, and he lived there for 23 years before escaping in 2005 and making it all the way to South Korea.
In the revision, he said he was born in Camp 14, but was transferred across the Taedong River to Camp 18 with his family when he was six years old. His mother and brother were executed there. He also revealed that he escaped from Camp 18 twice, making it to China on the second attempt before being caught, repatriated, and sent back to Camp 14 where he was tortured at age 20. He escaped in 2005 and this time made it to South Korea.
Even with these revisions, Dong-hyuk’s story remains one of horrific brutality at the hands of the North Korean authorities. He lived in two political prison camps, and though the torture occurred when he was older, his body still carries the scars. However, because he is one of the most well-known North Korean defectors, these revisions received understandable attention from the media, with many high-profile publications like CNN and The Guardian picking up the story. In response, Dong-hyuk posted the following statement to his Facebook Page:
“Every one of us have stories, or things we’d like to hide. We all have something in the past that we never want brought to light. I too, forever wanted to conceal and hide part of my past. We tell ourselves that it’s okay to not reveal every little detail, and that it might not matter if certain parts aren’t clarified.
Nevertheless this particular past of mine that I so badly wanted to cover up can no longer be hidden, nor do I want it to be.
To those who have supported me, trusted me and believed in me all this time, I am so very grateful and at the same time so very sorry to each and every single one of you.
At this point I may or may not be able to continue in my work and efforts in trying to eliminate the political prison camps and bring justice to the oppressed- the same goes for my entire fight altogether against the North Korean regime.
But instead of me, you all can still fight. I still have faith in you. For my family, for the suffering political prisoners, for the suffering North Korean people, each of you still have a voice and an ability to fight for us and against this evil regime. On our behalf you must continue to spread what you know. The world still needs to know of the horrendous and unspeakable horrors that are taking place. These will be my final words and this will likely be my final post. Thank You”
Though Dong-hyuk has decided to step away from public advocacy for the time being, this does not change what we know about North Korea, its political prison camps, and the systematic oppression of 24 million people inside that country. The UN Commission of Inquiry Report, which is the most authoritative report on the human rights situation in North Korea, was the result of a year-long process including interviews with over 320 victims and witnesses, 80 of which were public.
The international community’s understanding of the seriousness of the challenges facing the North Korean people has not changed. This is not a small issue that could be derailed by changes to the testimony of one victim. It remains one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today, and we of course remain as committed as ever to working for and with the North Korean people to bring forward the day where they are able to pursue their individual and collective potential to its fullest. And we appreciate your solidarity in this effort.