The Current

North Korean Camp 14 survivor Shin Dong-hyuk embellished story

His story transfixed the world. Born into a North Korean prison camp, Shin Dong-hyuk was stripped of his basic human rights, starved and tortured before escaping to the free world. Now, he admits he changed some of that story....
In 2005, Shin Dong-hyuk was the first person to have escaped an internment camp, called Camp #14, in North Korea and live to tell about the experience. Now, there are changes to Shin Dong-hyuk's story. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

His story transfixed the world. Born into a North Korean prison camp, Shin Dong-hyuk was stripped of his basic human rights, starved and tortured before escaping to the free world. Now, he admits he changed some of that story.

The North Korean political prison camp system -- once a person becomes an inmate and sets foot in there, they are no longer human, and they begin to live lives like animals. And basically, since we were not treated as human, we were not given food fit for human consumption...- ShinDong-hyuk


That was Shin Dong-hyuk speaking on The Current through a translator back in 2012, and giving us a rare glimpse of life inside North Korea's brutal prison camps.

Shin Dong-hyuk's story was heart-wrenching, and one of a kind. Now 32-years-old, he's believed to be the only person actually born inside the camps to escape them and tell his tale. And what a tale.

The story reached a global audience in the bestselling book, Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, written with author and journalist Blaine Harden.

After seven months underground he was released and he was taken to that execution grounds...and he was forced to witness, along with his father, the hanging of his mother and the shooting of his brother.-BlaineHarden speaking on The Current, with ShinDong-hyukin 2012


The prison camp survivor went on to deliver high-profile testimony to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in North Korea. But on Saturday, parts of Shin Dong-hyuk's story began to unravel, including the age at which he suffered torture, which camps he was confined to, and even the idea that his successful escape was his first attempt.

To look at what this development means for the story, we were joined by two guests:

  • Curtis Melvin is a North Korea researcher at Johns Hopkins University who has interviewed numerous North Korean defectors. He specializes in the use of satellite imagery analysis.
  • Jack Kim is a special advisor and former Executive Director of Han Voice, a non-profit human rights organization focusing on North Korea refugees.

Shin himself has released a statement asking for forgiveness. He writes: "We all have something in the past that we never want brought to light. I too, forever wanted to conceal and hide part of my past. We tell ourselves that it's okay to not reveal every little detail, and that it might not matter if certain parts aren't clarified."

Our request to Blaine Harden has gone unanswered but he has posted a response on his website.


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This segment was produced by The Current's Naheed Mustafa, Sarah Grant and Idella Sturino.

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