The Story of Mr. Hong Gang Chul (3/3)

[Third Round of Inspection]

The defectors are inspected by NIS members at the Thai immigration detention center. If I remember correctly, back in early November, the inspector who had been in charge of me back at Thailand came in. He asked if I remembered him and asked to move rooms. So we went into another room upstairs. The room was like the others but there were three desks for the inspectors. The previous rooms were equipped with only two desks for inspectors but now there were three.

That room also had a CCTV that captured every corner and as there was no sunlight, it was very cold. Until then, I was wearing summer clothes, and when I said that I was cold, the inspectors handed me winter clothing, saying that they bought it especially for me with their own savings. Later, the NIS members confessed in court that all the clothing, food, cigarettes and alcohol that they provided me were bought with NIS budget. Once again I was very cold, tired and lonely.

When I was receiving my second round of inspections, I falsely testified that I was assigned a
mission from the North Korean Intelligence Agency and accordingly, I was asked by the
inspectors to fill out a “spy mission report.” If I had actually worked as a spy, then it would
have been no problem for me to write the report, but since I have never been a spy before, I
just made everything up.

Days of suffering and pain awaited me again. No matter how I tried to explain that I was not a spy, the NIS refused to listen.

On the first day of the third inspection, the inspector who had interrogated me in Thailand informed me that from now on everything I say would be recorded and that I must sign a consent form. Later at court, when the judge asked for the recordings, the NIS replied that they don’t have them as they delete such recordings every three months. Did they really fail to hand it in because they were deleted? Is the NIS such foolish to not keep their inspection records?

The inspector asked again of the things that I testified. Because I had been testifying by mouth and words day and night in front of the NIS, I could now falsely testify from memory. So when the inspector interrogated, I mumbled on without any meaning.

While listening, the inspector asked me to draw the “spy mission report” on the board. When I did, he asked if there were no photos in the report. I said there were none. Then he questioned how I, who would be presumed to be a top-class party member spy could not have a single photo. It was then that I realized that this was an inspector who was keen to see the real truth and crying, I confessed that I had falsely confessed to everything because I
was so tired and ashamed.

Without a single word, the inspector left the room.

After a while, my previous inspectors came in. They said, “Bastard, we knew that you would be like that. Enough for today, let’s continue tomorrow.”

Days of suffering and pain awaited me again. No matter how I tried to explain that I was not a spy, the NIS refused to listen. They said that if I kept on denying, they would cut back on
my subsidy. Back then, the Hanawon (the Government Settlement Support Center for North
Korean Refugees) provided four million won ($ 4,000) for a defectors’ settlement subsidy. If
my subsidy was cut by half, I would have to start with two million won, and I thought it
would not be enough.

The NIS head in charge of me changed and one day he came into my room with a pack of “Esse” cigarettes, four persimmons and a book called “Dongibokam” (a book about traditional Korean medicine). He said to take the easy way out not the hard one. Those confirmed as spies here all request for a press conference but the NIS refuses because then the North would be able to see it and would thus harm their family members. The NIS said that they could take me to see my family, as they lived near the border.

He then asked what I planned to do as a living here in South Korea. I replied that back in North Korea, I worked in the army and also I had experience in a construction site so I could plaster and weld things as well.

Almost everyone who used to be in the army back in the North is able to farm and build. I said I am willing to do anything and he replied that even South Koreans, who all have graduated from universities have trouble finding a job and that I too would eventually be unemployed. He continued on saying that my inspectors would have to be my guarantors and look after my life, but if I continued to change my statements, then no one would want to look after me and stand up for me so I should better behave from now on. I thought he was speaking the truth. It was a Saturday. So I said yes, and I compiled all the false testimonies I made so far and gave my final one. And I kept that false statement. It was about mid-December back then.

All the testimonies I have said and written that have been acknowledged by the court have piled up to be more than 1000 pages.

The moment I retained my testimony, they began to treat me well again.

Every Friday dinner, they provided a feast with soju wine, beer, sashimi (raw fish), chicken, crab, fruits and so on. They let me smoke to my liking and gave me my own cigarettes and lighter and at dinner, before they went home, they never forgot to give me some soju. I detested myself for living like that. On January 2014, after another feast, I sang a song called “I don’t know why I am like this” and, suddenly broke into tears and so my female inspector had to help me back to my room.

As I was drunk the other day, I knew of such after the inspectors told me. At court, they testified that it was a male inspector that took me into my room, not a female. Why would they lie about such a thing?

I was no longer hungry after I retained my stance. I was provided with regular snacks and if I asked for more, they gave me more. When I asked for TV, they let me watch DVDs, but not ordinary channels. Because it had been a long time since I had a sexual relationship, they also gave me R-rated movies. The inspectors said that they are also willing to provide me with women. But I refused.

They were so desperate to earn my favor. Those who shamed me were now trying to call me their “brother”. From this point on, I began to exercise an hour a day. As it had been a couple of months since my last exercise, a simple game of ping-pong tired me heavily.

I am a defector who escaped from the North. But I do not wish for the collapse of my country. Moreover, I do not wish for war.

I guess it was about mid-January, 2014. A female inspector came and told me how there was a spy who did not listen to them and instead listened to a crazy lawyer, called Minbyun (“Lawyers for Democratic Society”) and got a five-year sentence instead of a three-year sentence. The inspector told me that she had met the spy today. I heard frequently about those lawyers from the NIS inspectors.

The female inspector continued on saying how she used to refuse meeting the female spy but went out today to meet her. She was greeted well. Out of curiosity, I asked how women like her behave and the inspector said that once spies like you write a “consent to change,” they are granted subsidies and houses.

[NIS Interrogation]

On January 20, 2014, the NIS investigation bureau came to interrogate the suspect.

Prior to starting the interrogation, I needed to re-write my testimonies in biography form. I had to work hard to remember what I said and I wrote about 100 pages.

A harsh looking investigator came to interrogate me and he looked just like a rather dumb gangster. Throughout the interrogation, he spoke down to me with his unique Kyungsang-do dialect. When starting the interrogation, I was told that I had the right to remain silent and the right to counsel. But if I refuse to say anything, they would cut back on my subsidy by 50% so I had no choice but to speak.

I had the right to counsel, but since the NIS did not provide me with one, I had to find one myself. I did not know anybody in South Korea. I could not have contact with anybody and thus could not receive any form of help. How then was I supposed to consult a lawyer? Hence what the NIS was really trying to say is that “you are completely under the control of the NIS, and if you don’t listen you will never be able to go out.” Not surprisingly, I testified as I had falsely memorized before. Back then, I foolishly believed that there would be no press conference, that I would be able to meet my family and be given money, housing, and a job. During that time, there was once again another head inspector who consistently told me that after the interrogation, spies like me are well-taken care of in the future. How could I not believe the NIS?

[Inspection of the Warrant]

On February 11, 2014, I went to the Seoul District Court with the NIS workers for a warrant evaluation. That night, we held a “farewell party”. The inspectors did not tell me where I would be going and said, although the NIS tries to care for me the best they can, if I meet a bad judge, I might get a three-year sentence. But still, I would be able to enjoy the national holidays and as there are hopes of getting pardoned, I should remain hopeful.

I believed them, as I read about the special pardons that the defectors get like in the book “Shadows of Progress.” Never did they say anything about my going to jail, which was probably why I was confused.

On the morning of February 11, 2014, 7-8 Special Police officers along with my inspectors came into my room with their shoes on and cuffed my hands, telling that “this is a mere formality.” The inspectors from the JCIC brought my belongings and helped me put it in my bag. My worst inspector gave me 7~8 packs of “Esse” cigarettes along with a lighter in front of the Police officers and told me to smoke and that if I want, I could ask for soju. He also gave me a checkered shirt to wear when the spring comes. So I thought I would be going not to jail but some someplace I would be able to freely smoke. Who would have imagined there being a jail where you can smoke, drink and wear a checkered-shirt?

Even if I was unfortunate to meet a bad judge like the NIS inspectors said and get a 3-year sentence, I still foolishly believed that I would be able to meet my family, get a job, a house and money. Hence without my noticing, I was locked behind bars in Seoul prison, and after reading a news article about me in Munhwa Ilbo, I realized how I was deceived by the NIS. And it was not until I met my Minbyun lawyer, Jang Kyeongook that I was declared innocent in the first and second trials.

I am a defector who escaped from the North. But I do not wish for the collapse of my country. Moreover, I do not wish for war. There are human beings, my people, who also live in North Korea. There are those I love back in my homeland.

I wish that all would reconcile and work together to build a peaceful unified country under God’s grace. Thank you.

 

 

[Mr. Hong shared his testimony during a prayer gathering organized by the NCC-Korea Human Rights Center in 2016.]

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