The Hidden Hell of North Korea

32138463 - close up of a twisted barb wire

32138463 – close up of a twisted barb wire

Maximilian Looft, Author

Within the past few years, North Korea has once again risen to notoriety with continuing threats of nuclear war. And, since Trump became president, the heat between the United States and North Korea has severely risen. While most news outlets describe the threats from Kim Jong Un, very little is actually heard about the more sinister secret within the country. Even though North Korea’s leader tries to hide it, satellite images and defectors who have escaped the country tell stories of the deadly work camps that any citizen could be sent to at any time.

These camps have different names — concentration camps, gulags, correctional facilities — but what’s always common is that they are described as “Hell on Earth.”

Choi Kwanghyuk, who escaped from North Korea in 2013, was interviewed in October about life in his home country and his time in the gulag. His story tells a lot about North Korea’s intolerance toward religion: He was sent to the camp because of his faith.

Open Doors, a Christian foundation dedicated to helping oppressed Christians around the world, has ranked North Korea as the country most hostile toward Christianity and most other religions. The only sort of faith allowed is that toward the “supreme leader” of the country. Any sort of praying is outlawed and can get someone sent to a camp or even killed.

Choi was arrested in 2008 and was put in a prison, where he was interrogated and tortured for his faith. This continued until he was told he was to be sent to Camp 22, also known as Hoeryong Concentration Camp, one of the most feared camps in the country. Hearing this news, he managed to escape to China and eventually gained passage into the United States.

Choi may have been lucky, but most North Koreans aren’t. During an interview with Fox News, another escapee — Kang Cheol Hwan — tells the story of his time spent in Camp 14. Hwan was sent to Camp 14 at age 9 because his grandfather spoke out against the government. In North Korea, if anyone who speaks against the leader of the government, they and their entire family can be sent to the camps where they are tortured, beaten, and nearly starved.

“They barely had any food to eat. The food was mostly based on corn, and it wasn’t sufficient,” Hwan told his interviewers. “This is why most people were eating whatever they could find, including rats.”

In Camp 14, inmates work 15 hours every day in the coal mines and lumber mills, with only two days a year to rest.

However, this isn’t anywhere near as bad as Camp 22.

A former guard at the infamous camp, speaking anonymously, tells of the true horror the country hides. Up to 100 people are stuffed into each lowly living space with next to no room to move, and some 30 percent have scars, gouges, and are missing limbs. There are various torture practices within the camp, such as placing prisoners in water-filled tanks for up to 24 hours where they need to stand on their toes to breathe, and “pigeon torture” where prisoners are chained to walls two feet tall and are forced to crouch for hours on end.

Even if citizens are lucky enough to avoid the camps, they still are stuck in a restricted dystopian lifestyle. North Korea is often compared to George Orwell’s novel 1984. The depictions of life in the book and life in North Korea are eerily similar: posters are required to be everywhere and anywhere of the greater power, no one is allowed to speak against the government for fear of vanishing permanently, almost everyone has blind trust and loyalty to the country and the leader, food and many common living commodities are almost non-existent for most of the population, and there is pure hatred for every country that isn’t theirs.

But even with all these challenges and obstacles in the way of a free, easy and enjoyable life, there is another chance for many of these people. Pastor Chun Ki Won, the director of the Durihana Foundation, is dedicated to assisting North Korean people in escaping from the tyrannical country and finding their way to a better life. Pastor Chun came to Santa Fe High School on Sept. 25 to talk to students about life in North Korea and how people are attempting to escape the country. Despite the risk, people like Pastor Chun give these people a chance to escape the dystopian lifestyle and avoid the hell holes that are the secret concentration camps.

Advocates such as Pastor Chun actively work to get North Koreans out of the country and share their stories, but more needs to be done to raise awareness and free the people in the concentration camps.