Of all the defectors who have escaped North Korea, few know more about Pyongyang’s methods for crushing human souls than Ahn Myong-Chol, who worked as a guard at four North Korean prison camps before fleeing to China, and then South Korea, in 1994. Last month, I met him in Toronto, and he told me his story.

During training, Ahn was taught to treat gulag prisoners as expendable subhumans: They were to be kept alive only insofar as their labour output justified the gulags’ cost of operation.

On rare occasions, conditions become so hideous that starving prisoners stage local revolts. This happened, Ahn says, in 1985, at Camp 12 (one of four camps where he worked). “A guard was berating a prisoner who has collapsed, and when one of the prisoner’s relatives went to attend the fallen man, a guard killed him,” Ahn tells me, through a translator. “There was a large crowd of prisoners watching. Many of them went into a sort of rage. They attacked the local security village where the guards lived, killing 200 family members of the guard corps. When word spread, all the guards from Camp 12 and neighbouring Camp 13 joined forces to slaughter all the prisoners. No one knows how many people died. Eventually, they dismantled both camps.”

Stories like this help explain why more North Koreans do not rise up against the regime, or flee into China: Collective punishment is the norm. When a citizen is convicted of a crime, his children, parents, and sometimes even grandparents can be thrown into the gulag with him. (In Ahn’s case, his eventual escape into China precipitated a manhunt on the Chinese side of the border that resulted in 140 North Koreans being rounded up and sent to North Korean gulags.) Almost every act of escape or defiance is guaranteed to end tragically, if not for the escapee then for someone he loves. (Illustrations: Ahn Myong-Chol)

(Source: nationalpost)

… and the world we living keeps on spinning