North Korea Defector Walks Back Parts of His Story

Shin Dong-Hyuk is key figure in accounts of country's abuses
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2015 6:51 AM CST
North Korea Defector Walks Back Parts of His Story
In this Feb. 19, 2013, file photo, North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk speaks in Geneva.   (AP Photo/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott, File)

Shin Dong-hyuk's life story has helped the outside world establish a picture of abuses in North Korea: He says he escaped from a prison known as Camp 14, and he has served as a witness to the UN and as the source for an international best-seller. Now, however, he has changed elements of his story, the Wall Street Journal reports. He had previously claimed to have spent his whole life at the brutal Camp 14, where no one believes they'll leave alive. Now he says he spent most of his time at a less-harsh facility known as Camp 18, the New York Times reports. He has also changed his account regarding his torture experience.

"From a human rights perspective, he was still brutally tortured, but he moved things around," Blaine Harden, the author of Escape From Camp 14, tells the Washington Post. Shin initially said he was tortured by guards over suspicions he was plotting an escape and for dropping a sewing machine; now he says the abuse was because he had been caught fleeing Camp 18, the Times reports. "I didn't want to tell exactly what happened in order not to relive these painful moments," he says in a statement. Even his new account is facing doubts by other defectors. But a Human Rights Watch activist says Shin's changed story doesn't hurt the UN's investigation into the country's abuses. "The commission report is airtight with or without Shin," he says. (More North Korea stories.)

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