Jonathan Kay: North Korean prison guard who escaped the gulag sketches its staggering inhumanity
Of all the defectors who have escaped North Korea, few know more about Pyongyang’s methods for crushing human souls than Ahn Myong-Chol, who worked as a guard at four North Korean prison camps before fleeing to China, and then South Korea, in 1994. Last month, I met him in Toronto, and he told me his story.
During training, Ahn was taught to treat gulag prisoners as expendable subhumans: They were to be kept alive only insofar as their labour output justified the gulags’ cost of operation.
On rare occasions, conditions become so hideous that starving prisoners stage local revolts. This happened, Ahn says, in 1985, at Camp 12 (one of four camps where he worked). “A guard was berating a prisoner who has collapsed, and when one of the prisoner’s relatives went to attend the fallen man, a guard killed him,” Ahn tells me, through a translator. “There was a large crowd of prisoners watching. Many of them went into a sort of rage. They attacked the local security village where the guards lived, killing 200 family members of the guard corps. When word spread, all the guards from Camp 12 and neighbouring Camp 13 joined forces to slaughter all the prisoners. No one knows how many people died. Eventually, they dismantled both camps.”
Stories like this help explain why more North Koreans do not rise up against the regime, or flee into China: Collective punishment is the norm. (Illustrations: Ahn Myong-Chol)
North Korea rushes to finish lavish ski resort for Kim Jong-un, country’s 5,000 other skiers
The secretary-general of North Korea’s ski association views the sprawling alpine landscape before him with unabashed pride. Facing a strong, cold wind, he points to a dip in the rugged, tree-covered mountains and says the sunrise there is a sight of unmatched beauty, worthy of the nation’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un.
This is the Masik Pass ski resort, North Korea’s latest megaproject, the product of 10 months of furious labor intended to show that this country, so often derided for its poverty and isolation, is as civilized and culturally advanced as any other.
The complex of ski runs, resort chalets and sleigh rides will formally open Thursday, though late last month the main hotels appeared to be little more than shells, potholes filled the access roads and foundations were still being dug for secondary buildings. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)