A woman who fled North Korea has opened up about the ‘horrific’ things she saw.
Danbi Kim, 26, said she watched in horror as four men and two women were executed in front of her.
At the age of 10, Danbi was among thousands of people summoned to watch soldiers kill would-be-deserters from North Korea.
Years later, Danbi suffered ‘inhuman’ torture for a period of 25 days.
Recalling the dreadful moment she was forced to witness the executions, Danbi said:
Four men and two women were tied to wooden poles and pleading for mercy.
Executioners wrapped their bodies in plastic sheets and put stones into their mouths.
I heard the clapping sound of shots, saw their agonised struggle then stillness amongst the blood. I was so deeply traumatised by what I saw I couldn’t eat for days.
Danbi has been speaking out after fleeing North Korea in her late teens. She said her brother, who was a police officer, has not been seen for years after being thrown into political prison.
Danbi grew up in the era when Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il was ruling and grew up in Hyesan, in Ryanggang Province.
According to The Mirror, her father managed a state museum and her family were given ‘good rations’ during the 1990s famine.
She said she had a happy childhood, with fond memories of playing on the mountains and eating wild strawberries.
However, when Danbi was 13, her dad fell into debt. Danbi wanted to help the family so she started selling mountain herbs then worked as a ‘mule’ for established smugglers.
As well as making money for my family, smuggled DVDs woke me up to the rest of the world.
I stayed up all night immersed in South Korean films, blinds drawn because it’s illegal to watch anything other than state news.
I glimpsed freedom in the wider world, girls talking to boys, women with highlighted hair and blue jeans. In North Korea girls were expected to be subservient.
Wearing anything other than conservative North Korean clothing meant we’d be stopped by the youth brigade and interrogated.‘ Why are you wearing the clothes of the imperial b******s? What is Kim Il-sung’s birthdate?’
Answering incorrectly saw us hit on the head, thighs or buttocks and reported to parents, school or police.
The DVDs showed me women elsewhere had freedom to change their looks and clothes, express their personalities. It was the biggest revelation of my life.
In 2010, one morning, at 4.30am, the Bowibu - secret police - burst into Danbi’s house and arrested her and brother Namhoon.
Over the next 25 days, they were punched, kicked and had to stand in stress positions for hours on end, and were fed 30 kernels of corn a day.
Torture in a police station is hell. But in a political detention centre you’re treated as if you’re not human. We were driven to a block in a mountain range with hoods over our heads. I was made to watch while they hit Namhoon with a cane that sliced into his skin.
When they tied his arms up and beat him, I cried at every punch and kick to his head.
For me, they got a thick rod, jammed it between my knees and made me sit like that for eight hours. When I didn’t confess they hit me with a band until my skin turned black.
Namhoon could hear me crying at night in an adjoining cell, so gently sang to me through the pipes to calm me. He said he would take all the blame. I confessed to smuggling but not the more serious crime.
Danbi was freed, but her brother was never seen again, he is believed to be among an estimated 100,000 in political prison camps.
Now deemed a risk to her family, Danbi escaped on August 13, 2011 – aged 19.
Danbi crossed into China, travelled 3,000 miles to South East Asia and arrived in South Korea as a refugee.
She has since travelled to Washington to talk to the US government and has given talks to inform the world what it's really like in North Korea.
The world knows hardly anything of North Korea beyond propaganda films. We will only learn from real stories from people who lived there.
Until my last breath I will carry on working to tell the inside story of North Korea, in the name of my lost brother.
For more information, visit: www.libertyinnorthkorea.org.