Shin Dong-hyuk: North Korea camp survivor apologizes for inaccurate story
North Korean prison camp escapee Shin Dong-hyuk, who is now a high-profile human rights campaigner, has apologized for inaccuracies in his story.
Shin Dong-hyuk, 32, was the subject of a best-selling book after he fled North Korea in 2005.
The book described how Shin Dong-hyuk was tortured, and his relatives killed.
On January 17, author Blaine Harden said that although the key elements of Shin Dong-hyuk’s accounts were correct, the time and date of some events were wrong.
“From a human rights perspective, he was still brutally tortured, but he moved things around,” Blaine Harden told the Washington Post.
Shin Dong-hyuk was born inside a North Korean labor camp. He said that he spent 23 years in captivity before his escape, and that during his time inside, he was starved, tortured and saw his mother and brother executed.
He managed to flee after climbing through an electric fence, and eventually settled in South Korea.
Blaine Harden wrote about Shin Dong-hyuk’s experiences in his book Escape from Camp 14, which became a best-seller and was translated into 27 languages.
Blaine Harden said he had learned that Shin Dong-hyuk “had told friends an account of his life that differed substantially from my book”, and spoke to him to clarify the changes.
One inaccuracy in Shin Dong-hyuk’s account was where his mother and brother were executed, the Washington Post said.
In the book, Shin Dong-hyuk had said that they were killed in Camp 14, a prison camp in North Korea. However, Shin Dong-hyuk now said that the execution took place while they were in another camp, known as Camp 18.
In his original account, Shin Dong-hyuk had also described being burned and tortured when he was 13, after he was suspected of plotting an escape. However, Shin Dong-hyuk now says that that torture occurred when he was 20, the Washington Post said.
On January 18, Shin Dong-hyuk wrote on his Facebook page that he was “very sorry”. He said that he had wanted to “conceal and hide” part of his painful past.
“We tell ourselves that it’s okay not to reveal every little detail, and that it might not matter if certain parts aren’t clarified,” he wrote.
Shin Dong-hyuk also said that he might end his work against North Korea’s prison camps, but urged supporters to continue campaigning against rights abuses.
North Korea has previously sought to discredit Shin Dong-hyuk, including by releasing a video of Shin’s father saying that his son had never been in a labor camp.
Human rights experts have argued that the inaccuracies in Shin Dong-hyuk’s account are minor, and do not alter the extent of the torture he suffered.
In 2013, Shin Dong-hyuk gave evidence to a UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea’s human rights.
In addition to public testimonies from more than 80 North Korean defectors and witnesses, the commission also drew on confidential interviews with about 240 other witnesses who were afraid to speak publicly, fearing reprisals against their families.
The commission said detainees in prison camps were subject to “deliberate starvation, forced labor, executions, torture, rape and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide”.
In December, the UN Security Council discussed North Korea’s human rights record, after the UN General Assembly voted in favor of referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity.
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