Shin In Geun was born in a North Korean prison camp. Song Byeok served the regime as a propaganda artist. Both have fled — and are exposing North Korea’s regime.
“We were beaten whenever the guards felt like it,” Shin tells Metro. “I saw people beaten to death, starving to death and publicly executed.”
Shin’s torso is covered with scars from torture. His ankles bear scars from having been hung upside down. His right middle finger is missing a digit: prison guards cut it off as punishment.
“In the prison camp, you can’t trust anyone,” he explains. “You have to be cruel to survive. If you report a fellow inmate to the guards, you get his food. And because you’re always starved, of course you do.”
Shin even saw his mother and brother executed after they tried to escape. He had denounced them.
Shin, now 29, is the only person born in a North Korean prison camp known to have escaped. Now he lives in California and South Korea, and is determined to tell the world about the immense cruelty of North Korea’s Kim regime. “I don’t know whether speaking out will change anything,” he says. “But I can’t do nothing.”
“You have to be cruel to survive. If you report a fellow inmate to the guards, you get his food ration. And because you’re always hungry, of course you do.” Shin In Geun
His in life has been chronicled in a new book, Escape From Camp 14.
Song Byeok was one of the brutal regime’s propaganda artists. “I didn’t know the truth about North Korea being a closed society,” he tells Metro. “I respected and admired the political leaders.” But when mass starvation hit the country, Song discovered the true face of the regime.
“My father and I had to go to China to get rice because my family didn’t have any food. My father drowned when we tried to cross the Temen river. I couldn’t find his body and asked the North Korean border guards to help, but instead they arrested me and put me in prison.”
Today Song is a fierce opponent of 29-year-old dictator Kim Jong Un, using his artistic skills to make posters mocking North Korea. “I want to tell people around the world how North Koreans live, and how different their lives are from what people in other countries take for granted,” he explains. “I can’t understand how North Korea can continue to survive.”
In fact, the regime may not survive much longer. “News is increasingly leaking into the North through short-wave radio broadcasts and illegal international phone calls,” explains Tim Peters, a Seoul-based pastor who helps North Koreans escape. “Coming from a society in which it is virtual suicide to speak out, brave defectors like Song and Shin do a great service to their countrymen.
“And disenchantment with the third generation of leadership in North Korea is on the rise. Refugees tell us that most people are fed up, but they also know that voicing such dissatisfaction can mean long-term imprisonment, if not worse.”