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Gyeonggi Student Taking on NK Camps

Koo Jun Hoe  |  2014-06-27 00:24

People who go to prison camps are called criminals in North Korea, but I do not think their crimes were so big. I think its unfair.

Such is the view of 13-year-old Kim Seo Yeon (left), a sixth-grader at Tanbeol Elementary School in Kwangju, Gyeonggi Province. On the 25th, Open Radio for North Korea hosted a preview of a new story book Kim has published: Please grant my wish."  

Kim, speaking at the event at Seoul Press Center, said she was inspired to write her book by nine North Korean orphans who were forcible repatriated from Laos last May. These young people my age had tried so hard to get to Laos, but they were repatriated because people did not care enough, she said. It was so sad to think of it.

Spurred on by the tragedy, Kim spent four months conducting a survey about North Korea with her friends. She also sought out North Korean defectors in order to hear their real-life stories. Then, with some expert advice, she wrote the story.

It starts with a North Korean girl called Sooni appearing in a South Korean boys dream. Sooni has died in a North Korean political prison camp at age 11, after eating only corn porridge, working in a coal mine, and getting regular beatings.

The boy is shocked by what he sees, and when Sooni begs him to spread her story far and wide so as to stop any more children from suffering the same fate as her, he agrees. The tale ends with the boy waking up from his dream and promising to spread the truth about children imprisoned in North Korea.

On hand at the preview to answer questions about North Koreas network of prison camps was Ahn Myeong Cheol (right), a former guard at one such camp prior to his defection to the South.

As you know, if the president or government of South Korea does something wrong, we can criticize and demonstrate in opposition, Ahn pointed out to the audience, which included 30 classmates from Tanbeol Elementary School. This is a basic right of all South Koreans. But if someone criticizes Kim Jong Eun in North Korea, he and his entire family are punished.

When I worked as a guard at a North Korean prison camp, I found that 90% of the prisoners there had no idea why they had been imprisoned," Ahn continued. "For instance: one night a man was asleep, when a truck came by his house and just took him and his family away to a prison camp. Only later at the camp did he find out that his grandfather, whom he had never even met, once criticized North Korea.

An animated video version of "Please grant my wish was published on June 26th on the Open Radio for North Korea homepage ( and YouTube. It contains English subtitles.

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