Kang Chol Hwan, a former child prisoner at Yoduk Prison in North Korea, currently works as a newspaper reporter for Chosun Daily in Seoul. Below are excerpt of his account:
I became a prisoner in August '77. I was 10 years old at the time. My younger brother was 7. The reason why we were imprisoned was my grandfather and grandmother were residents in Japan. My grandfather was purged politically and disappeared. And because of my grandfather, all the family members were forced to go to the prisoners camp.
In North Korea, the prisoners camps are divided into two parts, economic prisoners camp and political prisoners camp. Also they are divided into two types. One is camps, the other is prison. The prisoners with light crimes are in the camps. And prison is for the serious criminals. Hundred of thousands of people do forced labor just like previous camps in Russia.
When I was 10 years old, we were put to work digging clay and constructing a building. And there were dozens of kids, and while digging the ground, it collapsed, and they died. They buried the kids secretly, without notifying their parents, even though the parents came. It was the first atrocity I witnessed.
Most people died because of malnutrition. I saw such cases many times, malnutrition. It was really a miserable scene. And once I saw a public execution by rifle.
The most unforgettable image I have is when one of my close friend's sisters died in the wintertime. In burying her, we couldn't dig the ground very deeply, because it was frozen. When spring came, the ground thawed, and the dead body floated up. I cannot forget that miserable scene.
[Excerpt of an article by Antony Barnett, The Observer]