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North Korean defector speaks out

Shin Dong Hyuk, who escaped a prison camp and made it to the South, has just published a book.

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After spending 22 years in a North Korean political prison camp, Shin Dong Hyuk would like to make one special request of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il.

"I would suggest," says Mr. Shin, "he spend one hour in the camp."

More realistically, activists hope to arouse South Koreans' concern for the horrors of the North's prison system as told in Shin's story from his birth 25 years ago to political prisoners in Camp No. 14 until his escape through an electrified fence in January 2005.

"People are not so interested," says Kim Sang Hun, director of the North Korean Human Rights Database Center here. "The indifference of South Korean society to the issue of North Korean rights is so awful."

The center just published Shin's book, "Escape to the Outside World: From Total Control Prison Camp No. 14 in North Korea." The book has sold modestly despite its window on the harsh system enforced by the North as the South pursues rapprochement. Mr. Kim says the initial response has mirrored that for "The Aquariums of Pyongyang: 10 Years in the North Korean Gulag," by Kang Chol Hwan, who fled after his release from Yeodok prison camp. Mr. Kang's story gained wide attention only after its translation into Japanese and then into English.

Camp No. 14, says Kim, is considerably harsher than Yeodok, where political prisoners serve fixed terms. "You are sent to Camp 14 to die," says Kim. "Shin was the first one ever to escape." Kim expects Japanese and English editions of Shin's account to sell far more widely.

Shin began writing his story in the South's consulate in Shanghai, where he found sanctuary after working for a year at a logging camp while hiding out from Chinese police who would return him to certain death in the North. Diplomats negotiated to bring him to Korea.


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