A human rights activist and the only known person to be born in a North Korea camp and escape to the West wrote a chilling letter this week to Dennis Rodman, on the heels of news the former NBA player would coach the communist country’s basketball team.
“I have never met you, and until you visited North Korea in February I had never heard of you,” Shin Dong-hyuk wrote in an open letter first published by the Washington Post. “Now I know very well that you are a famous, retired American basketball player with many tattoos.”
“I want to tell you about myself. I was born in 1982 in Camp 14, a political prison in the mountains of North Korea,” he continued. “For more than 50 years, Kim Jong Un, his father and his grandfather have used prisons such as Camp 14 to punish, starve and work to death people who the regime decides are a threat.”
“Prisoners are sent to places like Camp 14 without trial and in secret,” the letter adds. “A prisoner’s ‘crime’ can be his relation by blood to someone the regime believes is a wrongdoer or wrong-thinker. My crime was to be born as the son of a man whose brother fled to South Korea in the 1950s.”
Dong-hyuk then detailed some of the horrors he says people face in North Korea’s labor camps.
“At this very moment, people are starving in these camps. Others are being beaten, and someone soon will be publicly executed as a lesson to other prisoners to work hard and obey the rules,” he wrote. “I grew up watching these executions, including the hanging of my mother.”
“On orders of the guards in Camp 14, inmates are forced to marry and create children to be raised by guards to be disposable slaves,” Dong-hyuk added. “Until I escaped in 2005, I was one of those slaves. My body is covered with scars from torture I endured in the camp.”
Dong-hyuk, who has since authored a book titled “Escape from Camp 14,” asked Rodman to confront dictator Kim Jong Un about the country’s labor camps.
“I am writing to you, Mr. Rodman, because, more than anything else, I want Kim Jong Un to hear the cries of his people,” he wrote. “Maybe you could use your friendship and your time together to help him understand that he has the power to close the camps and rebuild the country’s economy so everyone can afford to eat.”
“I end this letter in the hope that you can use your friendship with the dictator to be a friend to the North Korean people,” Dong-hyuk concluded.
Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter