Unseen by the outside world, North Korea runs vast prison camps of unspeakable cruelty
Tears well up, however, when she ponders why a true believer in the system like herself was punished. "I believed that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were basically gods," she says quietly. "I was so loyal to the party, and I don't know why they put me through this."
Lee won release in 1993, apparently for her success in meeting production quotas, she says. The earnings had gone into a fund to celebrate Kim Il Sung's 80th birthday the previous year. By then, though, Lee was in no mood to celebrate. "As soon as I got out of prison, I decided I didn't want to live in that hell," she says. Lee fled with her son in 1995. She converted to Christianity, having marveled at jailed Christians who refused to renounce their faith in the face of torture and execution. Lee moved to an apartment block on the outskirts of Seoul. Still, she is plagued by feelings of guilt about those left behind. Her new life's mission is to expose the terrors of the camps. "I want the world to know how evil Kim Jong Il is," she says. "The world needs to put more pressure on North Korea."
"It was a system to kill us." Lee Young Kook, jailed after trying to flee North Korea
Location of political prison camps
[Map is not available.]
No. 14 Gaechun Camp*
No. 18 Bukchang Camp
No. 15 Yodok Camp
No. 16 Hwasong Camp
No. 25 Chongjin Prison
No. 22 Hoeryong Camp
*Also No. 1 Gaechun Camp (political and other prisoners)
Sources: Human Rights Without Frontiers; David Hawk, U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea; USN&WR