Monday, April 03, 2006

Treatment of 70-year-old North Korean prisoner

In May 1996, food was so scarce that my mother used to climb into the woods and bring back herbs and plant roots to make weed gruel.

Since the food situation was bad outside the camps, you can easily guess it was far worse inside the political prison camps! At Camp No. 18, food enough to last only ten days, was used as a whole month's supply. Prisoners practically lived on weeds with one or two grains of corn. Such were the circumstances when an accident befell my 70-year mother [who was imprisoned with me].

As usual, my mother had gone to the woods to gather whatever was edible. Weak with age and extreme malnutrition, she collapsed in the middle of the forest, waking hours later in darkness. Unfortunately, one of the guards making his night round found my mother [and] suspecting that she was trying to run away from the camp, he handcuffed and confined her in a prison cell thinking that [she was trying to escape].

When I heard of my mother's arrest I rushed to the security officer to beg for mercy. There I saw my mother's bony hands locked in cuffs, and her face covered with blood where the skin had been cut. I pleaded that being an old woman she did not know better. My supplication only earned kicks from the officer.

Even though in her seventies, my mother was condemned to a special cell for serious offenders. She was then forced to work by the riverside carrying rocks to heap them into a pile. Can you imagine what I felt at that moment, watching my own mother in anxiety and yet unable to do a single thing for the poor old woman?

-- Yong Kim, who escaped from a political prison camp in North Korea and after living as a refugee 1 year later arrived safely in South Korea, via China and Mongolia.

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