WITNESS: AN Hyuk, Kwan-li-soNo. 15 “Yodok” (1987–1989)

Excerp taken from The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps, By David Hawk

AN Hyuk was born at Manpo City, Jakang Province, in 1968 into a loyal party family. At the age of twelve, he received a government scholarship to a school for physical education. In 1986, when he was nineteen, after ice skating in Hysean near Mt. Paekdu on the Chinese border, An crossed into China largely out of curiosity. Arrested in China, he was repatriated to North Korea. He was detained for one year and eight months in solitary confinement in an undersized, underground cell in the Maram ku-ryu-jang(detention facility) at Yongsong, Pyongyang, and for another year and a half at the Daesuk-ri singles prison area at Yodok, one of the villages in the “revolutionizing” section of Kwan-li-soNo. 15.

While at Maram, An was subjected to sleep-deprivation and compelled to sit motionless
for days. He saw only forty other detainees but believes there were as many as 1,000.
Among those in nearby cells were prisoners detained for spilling ink on or failing to ade-
quately dust photographs of Kim Il Sung, charges even the prison guards regarded as
lacking seriousness. An relates that when he was transferred to Yodok, the guards there
told him that he had been sitting down for too long and that it was time for him to do
some work. During his year and a half at Yodok, there were some 2,000 prisoners in the
Daesuk-ri singles section of the prison camp.

At Yodok, An’s first labor assignment was construction work at a water-driven electric-
power plant at the camp. His duties entailed breaking ice and wading waist-deep into a
frozen stream to gather stones, and laying boards to re-channel the water. It was literally
a “murderous” construction project, as scores died from exposure, and even more lost
fingers and toes to frostbite. His next work assignment was cutting down and carrying
from high mountains rare hardwood trees for export to Japan. Deaths resulted from
injuries during this project as well. His last work project was gathering wild mushrooms
in the mountains, also for export.
Kwan-li-so No. 15 Yodok

In 1992, An escaped to Seoul along with fellow former Yodok prisoner Kang Chol
Hwan. In 1995, Chongji Media in Seoul published his Korean-language prison memoirs,
Yodok List.


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