The Story of Mr. Hong Gang Chul (2/3)

[First Round of Inspection]

Upon receiving the inspection, the inspector presents a letter of an oath which says, “according to the North Korean Defector Protection law, those who try to receive protection with wrong intentions will be sentenced to five years of prison, and fined ten million Won. Based on the settlement subsidy clause, those who provide false information regarding their North Korean identity, escape reasons or who refuse to give information will have their subsidy reduced by 50%”. I was read the letter and signed with my thumbprint.

Men in the “Waiting Class” are able to smoke when they enter the inspection room. The NIS CJIC abuses the right to smoke to force the refugees to make confessions.

As I had a record of working as a North Korean army border control colonel, I received my first-round inspection from an inspector dispatched from a Defense Security command and that inspector, giving me a cigarette, told me to acknowledge that I worked as an Intelligence Security agent back in the North. When I replied that I have never worked as an Intelligence agent back in the North, the inspector said, “There are many agents like you here among the defectors. If you tell the truth that you worked as an information agent, you will not be punished. At least pay the price of the cigarette you are smoking right now”. The inspector was smoking “This Plus” and when going out, I asked him the price, thinking of paying him back. Because the inspector consistently requested me to acknowledge my past, I came to think that one gets some kind of incentive for discovering if one of the defectors worked as an intelligence agent back in the North. So I replied that I did work as an intelligence agent before. Little did I know that this was what they were going to use to accuse me of being an “intelligence agent spy”.

When I failed to listen to them, the inspectors swore at me and made me stand and they kicked the desk legs in frustration.

But it does not seem to be a big problem here in South Korea whether or not you worked as an “intelligence agent” back in the North. The NIS members informed me how during inspections, they come across many intelligence agents and hence it is not much of a big problem. Nevertheless, they made a spy out of me by forcibly making me acknowledge something I did not do. They even threatened me that they will reduce my subsidy by half if I do not make this acknowledgment.

The inspection lasted from 9AM until 5:30 or 6PM, excluding a one-hour lunch break. After that day’s inspection, they assigned me “homework”. That is what the NIS members call it. The “homework” is based on my statements and it is to further specify what I have said so that they could organize my replies. As an example, they would ask me to write about “what happened before your escape in January 2013. Talk about how you escaped and the aftermath.” I have to hand in my homework by next morning. Because the duration of the inspection is wholly up to us, we have no choice but to do the “homework”. If we do not do the “homework”, it will lengthen the inspection time and since we don’t want to stay in the cell room, we follow directly the orders of the NIS.

After fifteen days, the first inspections finally come to an end. There were already 250 pages of statements written just from the court-approved first inspection. After that, we stay about a month at the “End Class”. Then around mid-October, we go back to the inspection center to receive our second round of inspections.

[Second Round of Inspection]

The room used during the second inspection had a bed to the left of the door and the “inspection corner” to the right.

There was a CCTV that allowed no blind-spots. As the bathroom door was made of glass, the CCTV also looked into the bathroom. Hence, even the moments at the restroom were recorded.

The NIS told me that the room I was assigned was referred to as the “pleasant couple room”. Why do they have a CCTV in a “pleasant couple room”? Do they want to record what North Korean husband and wife do at their beds? Besides, my room had a single-bed. How could you have a “pleasant couple” time sleeping at a single-sized bed?

There was a peephole at the entrance from which one can look into the room from the hallway. But during the field inspection, they said I lied after they purposely changed the peephole to look to the hallway. It was only until sometime later that it was revealed that the peepholes did look into the rooms from the hallway.

In the inspection room, there were two large desks and two computers for the inspectors to use. At one side of the wall there was a one-way mirror so that from the opposite side of the one-way mirror, one could keep note of the inspection room.

As the doors closed automatically, I could not go out unless someone opened the door from the outside. There was attendance check too and the NIS workers gave me just enough food so I didn’t die of starvation. It was not until December 2013 when I stopped changing my testimony that they began to give me some snacks as well.

On the first day of the second inspection, two inspectors came to my room and took me to the room on the second floor. It was a very gloomy room. There were three desks for the inspectors where two faced me directly and the other from the side. They told me to sit and they said that they would talk down to me as if I were younger than them. A while later, the person in charge came and he walked back and forth around me. Then he said looking at me, “The men here are all members of the Special Forces so don’t think of anything foolish.” Later, it was in this room where my first NIS interrogations took place.

When I failed to listen to them, the inspectors swore at me and made me stand and they kicked the desk legs in frustration. Today even at school the students talk about rights violations when they are asked to stand as a punishment. Back in the North, I grew up as a first son, I did my studies well and rarely was I punished in school and home. It was in this country that they call the “free South Korea” that I got my first standing punishment.

I cried while standing up. I truly regretted it. “Even if I had to die, I should go back to the North.” I was so ashamed that I even once said to the inspectors to send me back home so that I could die without disgrace. My legs were swollen from standing so long, so I begged them to let me sit. The inspector yelled, “It doesn’t matter if bastards like you die. You need to be taken to Korean gangs and they will know what to do.” And they said that if I did not acknowledge that I was a spy, I would never be able to go out of this room.

At the court trial, the inspector that gave me such a hard time testified, “I did make him stand but it was so that he would regain his senses. I did talk down to him but I did it softly.” Why does one have to stand to gain their senses? Is there such a thing as ‘soft’ mockery and ‘harsh’ mockery?

Even when I was falsely testifying, I could not properly answer the inspectors’ questions. I replied as told but it was hard for me to remember something I had not done, something that came from the imaginations of the inspectors.

The head of the NIS frequently came into the inspection room and asked whether I did something bad here in Korea. I asked them how could it be possible for me to do something bad when I came straight to the NIS building from the airport. In reply, he said that if you did not do anything wrong, just acknowledge it and go. He also talked about Kim Hyunghee, the KAL (Korean Airline) bomber and Kim Shinjo, the Blue House intruder, the survivor of a commando team from North Korea sent to assassinate President Park Chung Hee (1968). “Even if Ms. Kim blew up an airplane and killed 115 people, she has married and got children with the help of the NIS” and he explained how Mr. Kim Shinjo became a pastor. Mr. Kim recently stopped by the CJIC to give a lecture with a newly bought car.

At the CJIC, there is a comic book entitled, “The Shadows of Progress”. This is a book that almost all defectors who stayed at the Center read. I read in this book that Kim Hyunhee, even after blowing up an airplane and killing 115 and then sentenced to death, was released after her court trial by a presidential pardon. Hence it was hard for me not to believe what the NIS had to say about Kim Hyunghee. Is it not a big crime to explode an airplane and take the lives of 115 people? I almost believed that I, who have done nothing bad, should make a false confession that I was a spy because such a terrorist like Ms. Kim is so well-off here in Korea.

The inspectors, knowing that I am a smoker, smoked right in front of me. I desperately wanted to smoke. When I begged them for one smoke, they would only let me when I promised I would listen and behave. I was so ashamed and tired after getting that one smoke, and I thought that compared to Kim Hyunhee and Kim Shinjo, the false accusations that I would agree to would be nothing, and so I did as I was told and acknowledged that I was a spy. It was only then that the inspector said it is enough for the day and wait to have dinner.

A while later the inspector came back and brought soju (Korean wine), bosam (pork), kimchi, bread and sundae with him. Back in North Korea, I used to drink, but I was not able to have a single drink since July 2, 2013, when I entered the Thai police station. As it was my first drink in a very long time, I became oblivious to my current state and began drinking busily.

The inspection went on while I was still drinking. The inspector said that spies from North Korea are usually ordered to research on the defectors or the “pro-North” behavioral trends and he asked what my mission was.

As told, I stammered that my mission was to research the behaviors of the defectors and the pro-North groups. The inspector then asked who such ‘pro-North’ people were. Back when I was in North Korea, I saw in the news that Rev. Moon Ikhwan, Fr. Moon Gyuhyun, Ms. Lim Sookyung, and Mr. Lim Jongseok worked for unification and so I gave their names. The inspector said that Rev. Mook Ikhwan died so long ago so I excluded him. I was not even aware that Rev. Moon had passed away.

The inspector asked me whether the North use the same words about pro-North groups, and told me to use the words as they use. So I said they use the word “democratic forces” and when they asked again, why would the North use the word “democratic”, I changed the answer to “unification patriots”. This is why it is recorded that I had a mission to research the behaviors of the “unification patriots”. Likewise, when I followed what the inspectors asked me to say, they would reward me with cigarettes and alcohol. Little was I aware of the trouble ahead and foolishly acknowledged all the false things the inspectors asked me to.

Even when I was falsely testifying, I could not properly answer the inspectors’ questions. I replied as told but it was hard for me to remember something I had not done, something that came from the imaginations of the inspectors. So there were moments when the inspectors swore at me as there was no consistency in my testimony. That was when I realized that even false statements needed to be consistent.

As I did not know what kind of people spies are, what education they receive and why missions they get, I just testified falsely according to the hints given by the inspectors which were why my statements lacked consistency (I could not remember what I said). Then again I would be sworn at, given no cigarettes, and I would say that I am not a spy. Why would the North send a person like me as a spy? Ask anyone at Musan and they would tell what kind
of person I am.

When I was in North Korea, I often went astray thinking that I was not accepted. Such people are called ‘gangsters’ back in the North. They are those who don’t adjust to the society, waste their lives and time. They drink a lot and often fight, too. Why would the North send a person like me, a bum, as a spy of all people?

When I changed my replies, they did not give me any cigarettes. At nights when I was really desperate, I would reply once again that I was a spy. Then at morning, I would deny again. After such a vicious cycle, I could take it no more and thus decided to say that I was a spy once and for all.

 

…TO BE CONTINUED

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