Shin Dong Hyuk is the only person born in a North Korean political labour camp who has managed to escape. Sweden has a special relationship with North Korea, with diplomatic contacts and an embassy in the country. Photo: Tom Sullivan/Sveriges Radio

North Korean government a "criminal gang"

"I'm here to really expose what is going on inside North Korea"
4:55 min

North Korea has been grabbing headlines in Sweden this week. Not only because of threats of war but because a high profile defector has been visiting Stockholm.

Shin Dong Hyuk is the only person born in a North Korean hard labour camp who escaped and lived to tell the tale.

When he was just seven he watched a teacher bludgeon a little girl to death. It had no effect on him at the time. He did not know any different.

25 years later he wants the world to wake up and do more to bring an end to the horrors facing 200,000 prisoners still being held in North Korean hard labour camps.

Sweden is one of the few western countries that has diplomatic contacts with North Korea and an embassy in Pyongyang.

Camp 14, just north of Pyongyang is one of North Korea's “total control zones” reserved for lower caste people considered hostile to the state.

It’s the size of Stockholm – it has factories, mines, mills, and farms - its surrounded by high voltage wires. No one leaves alive - the prisoners are on the brink of starvation and life expectancy is around 40. Children are conditioned to snitch to the guards as soon as they can speak. 

At 13 Shin found out his mother was planning  to escape, and told a guard. He was forced to watch her execution.

Then he was tortured and kept in an underground cell for six months. Guilt by association is one of the camp rules.

In the cell he met a prisoner who told him about life outside – and what it’s like to have enough food. That set his mind working and years later in 2005, he managed to escape and make his way via China to South Korea.

After years of rehabilitation he is now dedicated to telling the world how bad things are. He spoke to Radio Sweden through an interpreter.

Reporter: Tom Sullivan

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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