Most people would agree North Korea isn’t a very nice place to live. But a new problem has emerged as more defectors make it out of the country — their testimonies have been found to be faked:
“In January, the DPRK government released a video claiming to show Shin’s father denouncing his son’s stories as fake. When questioned, Shin confessed that parts of his account were also inaccurate, including sections on his time in Camp 14, the infamous labour camp for political prisoners, and the age at which he was tortured.
Shin is not alone in being found to have inaccurate. [sic] Another North Korean, Lee Soon-ok, offered testimony to the US House of Representatives in 2004, describing torture and the killing of Christians in hot iron liquid in a North Korean political prison.
But Lee’s testimony was challenged by Chang In-suk, then head of the North Korean Defectors’ Association in Seoul, who claimed to know first hand that Lee had never been a political prisoner. Many former DPRK citizens on the website NKnet agreed Lee’s accounts were unlikely to be true.”
Part of the problem? Western interviewers pay cash for stories from new defectors, probably dealing with a ton of issues adjusting to life in a new country, that fit a very specific narrative. And the more horrific, the better:
“But many refugees say they feel pressured for defector stories. Ahn Myung-chol, a former prison guard at Camp 22, said people liked shocking stories and these so-called ‘defector-activists’ were merely responding to this desire. Chong Kwang-il, a former prisoner at Camp 15, said the fame brought by media exposure trapped them, forcing them to reproduce a certain narrative.
Choi Sung-chol, the head of the UK One Korea Association, said the line between small and large inconsistencies was often hard to draw: ‘Most North Koreans do not worry about small factual mistakes as long as the big picture that North Korea violates human rights is right.’
Choi added: ‘We, North Koreans, know what is true and what is fake, but at the same time we do not want to ruin the bigger political moves like the UN committee of investigation or the US Human Rights Act.’”
It’s a perfect storm of actual suffering within North Korea met with with defectors who are probably completely overwhelmed in their efforts to adjust to a new life along with a healthy dose of “white knight”-ing on the part of Western (and in particular, Christian) aid agencies who are invested in demonizing everything that happens in the DPRK.
And I’m sure plenty of terrible things are happening on a daily basis. But even a whiff of exaggeration or falsification can manage to convolute and diminish the actual sufferings of North Koreans, political prisoners or otherwise. This is a dangerous road to go down.