The whole country is one huge prison cell: Yodok stories

“It breaks my heart as a mother and grandmother, now in the twilight of my life, that I live my life in this bliss, while my family died in that land of death. It is a huge prison cell."

There are a number of stories about North Korea in the news today. From the warning about an imminent ‘horrible disaster’ heading America’s way combined with an announcement that the military had been put in a battle-ready  ‘emergency posture’, to the somewhat unexpected accusation that Switzerland is denying North Koreans their human rights in refusing to sell them a ski lift. The elusive ski lift North Korea is so keen to obtain, is for a  lavish ski resort due to open this week, the pet project of Kim Jong-Un.

There was another story too. This story is in such absolute contrast to the supposed glamour of the ski resort that it is hard to reconcile the two as being about the same country. This is about a prison camp called Yodok, and one woman’s nine-year nightmare spent inside it. There she was tortured, her parents were starved to death and she was forced to carry their bodies on her back to bury them, her husband was taken from her never to be seen again and put in a ‘total control zone’ and she also had to bury her eight-year old son.

Yet this morning, hundreds of thousands of people across the UK woke up to hear her singing on the BBC Today programme. She was singing a propaganda song about North Korea, a beautiful, mournful tune.  "I really thought he was a good leader," Kim Young Soon, now 77, told the Telegraph, "But like all others, I was brainwashed."

Kim’s story is a fascinating one. As a young dancer, from a favoured family, she had met all the leaders of the Kim dynasty. Her friend, Sung Hye-rim, was also a dancer. So what caused her dramatic fall from grace? Well she knew that her friend had an affair with Kim Jung-Il. That’s all. Her poignant closing line on the Today programme this morning, was: ‘All North Korean people should know that there will be no mercy…I didn’t say what I knew, but I was still sent to Yodok, for knowing it.”

Tonight, Kim will be addressing an audience here at Amnesty’s UK office, and this time very definitely saying what she knows. Free places and info here.

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