Remember the minister who went into North Korea? While we may laugh at the pathetic image of North Korea's family of dictators, they have a structure to keep everyone in place. And people who illegally sneak into North Korea remember not to come back. Asia Times has a very disturbing story about what may have happened to Robert Park, and why he has been very reluctant to talk about his stay in North Korea's prisons.
Park, who entered North Korea at the behest of human-rights activists loosely banded under the names, "Unify Korea", "Pax Koreana" and "Freedom and Life for All North Koreans," appears to have been at odds with his handlers. They want him to tell his story for the shock effect of revealing the iniquities meted out by the North Koreans, but the truth may be so unspeakable that he wants nothing more than to remain silent.
The worst that may have happened, in the view of those who try to follow the sweeping record of human-rights violations in North Korea, is that he was subjected to sexual abuse too degrading and humiliating for him to be able to discuss willingly.
Sexual exploitation by North Korean police and security agents is hardly new. It's well known that North Korean women have used in massage parlors, hotels and bars in China to compromise foreign business people and missionaries in order to gather information, and sexual torture in prisons has also become widespread.
Kang Cho-hwan, who described his decade in the Yodok camp in the book Aquariums of Pyongyang, has written that "rape and sexual torture of female political prisoners" have been commonplace for the past 10 years. In an article for the newspaper Chosun Ilbo, for which he works as a reporter and commentator on North Korea, he quotes a recent defector as saying "it has become routine for security agents to sexually abuse female prisoners".
Another defector is quoted as describing security agents in Sinuiju, the North Korean city across the Yalu River from the Chinese city of Dandong, as having "stripped the female defectors regardless of their age and sexually tortured them, while agents did things to them that are hard to describe in words".
But what are North Korean agents doing to men? Reports of business people, notably South Korean businessmen and missionaries, caught in compromising positions with North Korean female intelligence operatives are one thing, but how about stripping and raping male prisoners? Kang Cho-hwan wrote in the newspaper that "sexual abuse" of Robert Park "was probably intended to break his will and exact a fabricated apology", but gives no details of what abuse occurred.
The implication is that North Korean interrogators used techniques similar to those employed by rogue American soldiers guarding Iraqi prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad several years ago.
NK Radio for North Korea, which broadcasts two hours daily via short-wave into North Korea from Seoul, elaborated on North Korean "sexual torture" - "a torture technique in which victims are physically and psychologically attacked". The goal is for victims to "become powerless with no defense capability during torture", said NK Open Radio. Techniques "include forcing people to strip naked, sitting in a humiliating posture and then be raped".
Jo Sung-rae, the co-leader with Park of the human-rights coalition "Freedom and Life for All North Koreans", was somewhat more specific in a broadcast interview but left out details that might have been especially embarrassing. Park "went through sexual abuse in detention conducted by North Korean women", said Jo. "He told me that they stripped him naked, touched him, and tortured him in a drunken state."
Park, "never having experienced sex in his whole life", according to the report of the interview, was evidently "troubled by a feeling of shame and humiliation after the sexual torture, even showing signs of being suicidal".
I was reminded of "The Manchurian Candidate".