North Korea's most feared labor camp, Yodok, is a grim place where "a father robs a son's food for his survival," survivors say, but a report by an authoritative human rights group states that reforms to the North Korean penal code may have ameliorated the worst abuses.
Conditions at the camp were described vividly to foreign reporters this month by North Korean defector Kim Gwang-soo, who escaped to South Korea in 2004 after a sentence at Yodok. He was held in an underground cell, where he was beaten for weeks, suffering a fractured skull and the loss of his teeth. He said the most agonizing torture was "the pigeon," in which his hands were cuffed behind his back and he was hung for 10 hours at a stretch.
Kim Eun-cheol (no relation), 26, was captured in 1999 after escaping to Russia and China and tortured by officials in North Korea's National Security Agency. For months, he was forced to kneel on a hot iron plate and beaten. However, he did not confess until he, too, was subjected to the "pigeon torture."
"Pumping" is a common practice: Prisoners are stripped naked, then forced to sit and stand repeatedly, sometimes hundreds of times, forcing their body cavities to deposit anything hidden.
Conditions in the North Korean penal system may have improved since the two Mr. Kims' experiences, according to Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, or NKHR, a Seoul-based civic group. The group in April published the first comprehensive report on torture in North Korea based on interviews with 20 defectors who had survived the interrogation centers and camps.
[World Peace Herald]