We perish because we know not… #TLENews
Shin Dong-hyuk, whose account of a childhood spent in a North Korean prison camp helped rally condemnation of Pyongyang’s human rights abuses, has admitted to altering parts of his story.
Blaine Harden, author of a bestselling biography of Mr Shin, said on his website the latter had “significantly revised details of his early life and substantially changed the dates and places of major events”, while arguing that the revisions “in no way changed the horror of his story”.
Mr Shin attracted global attention for his account of a childhood spent entirely in Camp 14, described by rights activists as one of the worst in North Korea’s network of political prison camps. A UN report last year estimated that up to 120,000 people are held in the camps, and “gradually eliminated through deliberate starvation, forced labour . . . and the denial of reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide”.
According to Mr Harden, Mr Shin — who says he was born in 1982 — now says he was transferred at the age of six to the nearby Camp 18. He has described two previously undisclosed failed escape attempts from that camp, and says that after the second of these he was sent back to Camp 14 for “punishment and torture”. Mr Shin had previously said this torture took place when he was 13, when he was suspected of plotting to escape with his mother and brother.
Mr Shin told Mr Harden that he had amended his story to avoid constantly revisiting painful events in his past.
“These revisions do not change what the international community knows about the prison camps or the oppression of the North Korean people,” said Sokeel Park, head of research at the non-profit group Liberty in North Korea, noting that last year’s UN report was based on interviews with more than 300 witnesses. “The burden of proof at this point, with all of the evidence from the commission of inquiry, is on the North Korean government.”
Last year’s unprecedented UN report led to the passage last month of a UN General Assembly motion urging the Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court, although such a move would probably be vetoed by China, a treaty ally of Pyongyang.
North Korea, which has dismissed the UN report as politically motivated, had sought to discredit Mr Shin through measures including its publication last year of a video in which his 70-year-old father said his family had not been incarcerated.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Mr Shin apologised to his supporters and urged them to continue fighting against North Korea’s “evil regime”.
“At this point I may or may not be able to continue in my work and efforts in trying to eliminate the political prison camps and bring justice to the oppressed,” he said. “These will be my final words and this will likely be my final post.”
By Simon Mundy