Park Kyong-ja [a 70-year-old North Korean grandmother] said many pregnant prisoners lost their babies because guards kicked and beat them around the abdomen.
She gave a precise description of the prison and said she could identify its deputy director, a lieutenant-colonel of police aged about 60, who exercised day-to-day authority. Her explanation was the same as in other such accounts. The regime is obsessed by racial purity, and so it exterminates children feared to be of Chinese blood.
Death comes in many guises for the returnees, as an elegant woman of 50 from Pyongyang, who asked to be named as Kim Hae-soon, explained. She escaped to Seoul in 2003. “My brother led a group of 16 escapers who were caught on the border with Mongolia and sent back in 2004,” she said. “After torture they singled him out as a political offender. The others were sent to camps but he was kept for interrogation.”
The family had influence. Last summer Kim found out that a senior North Korean official they knew was visiting China. She flew to Beijing on her South Korean passport, met the man and handed over $10,000 (£5,050) with a plea for help.
“The only result was that a few weeks later I got a curt message notifying me that my brother died in custody on April 28 this year and warning me not to inquire any further.”
Her sister-in-law and two nieces fled after hearing the news. They have just made it across the Tumen River. Rescuers are now trying to find them somewhere in northeast China.
[Excerpt of an article by Michael Sheridan, Sunday Times]