Friday, April 15, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: Torture by South Korean Dictatorship

The Korean said this before, but it is worth repeating -- although the world focuses a great deal on the terroristic dictatorship of North Korea, it would do well to focus on how South Korea escaped from its own series of dictators, who were only marginally less terroristic. And the translated article below gives a vivid picture of just how horrendous South Korean dictatorship was.

Just a little bit of background, because the article is slightly unclear. On April 5 and 6, there was a special performance titled "Cliff of Fire 2", which may be considered a "reality play" akin to reality television. The play has only two people on the stage, and the two are not actors. One is Jeong Hye-Shin, a psychiatrist. The other is Kim Tae-Ryong, a victim of torture. The entire play is Kim simply responding to Jeong's question, discussing what had happened to him. The article describes the performance. Translation below.

*                    *                     *

The son was not yet 100 days old when the father was dragged into the interrogation chamber. After receiving terrifying torture, the father succumbed to the torturers' order and confessed that he was a spy. All because he did not turn in his distant uncle, who had crossed over to the North during Korean War, returned to South Korea as a spy and threatened him with a pistol. The grandfather was executed, the father received a lifetime sentence, and aunt and uncle were put in prison as well. This is the Samcheok Family Spy Ring Case, reported in 1979.

The father was released in 1998, after nearly 20 years. The son, whose face the father had seen visiting the prison less than five times, is now 20 years old. "Most people won't understand how strange and difficult it is to face an adult son without seeing him growing up."

The full-capacity crowd in the Baek Seong-Hee/Jang Min-Ho Theater that held the performance, "Cliff of Fire 2," silently listened to the incredible story shared by an aging gentleman. On the stage, Mr. Kim Tae-Ryong (61) -- victim of the Samcheok Family Spy Ring Case, which was determined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2006 to be a fabrication based on torture -- was replying in low voice to the questions asked by psychiatrist Jeong Hye-Shin.

The thought that just five visits in 20 years were not enough for the son to make no matter how difficult the circumstances quickly became embarrassing with Kim's next words: "Basically, the whole family went to prison. But that was not the end. My grandfather (the family's great-grandfather) was overcome with guilt that he ruined the entire family because he could not disown his spy son-in-law; he killed himself by drinking poison. Another aunt of mine also drank poison and committed suicide. Just staying alive itself was too difficult."

The audience let out a low groan. Kim explained the tortures he received during the interrogation like "rotisserie chicken" torture and "spicy soup" torture, and said to this day, he is frightened to see a rotisserie chicken and retches at the sight of a bowl of spicy soup.

[TK: A little background about these two torture techniques, which were among the favorites by South Korea's National Security Bureau. "Rotisserie chicken" torture involves stripping down the prisoner naked, put him on the floor face down and beating him. Then the prisoner's hands are tied behind his back, and his feet are also tied. A long metal pole is inserted between the hands and feet, then the pole is raised up into the air by a chain, such that the prison looks like a rotisserie chicken hanging on a stick. The beating would continue periodically. This would be the position in which the prisoner would rest and sleep throughout the interrogation. This torture does severe damage on the prisoner's shoulders. "Spicy soup" torture is basically waterboarding. The prisoner is hung upside down, and wet towels are placed on his face so that the prisoner cannot breathe. In a regular waterboarding, the towel covering the nose would be lifted up and water would be poured in through the nostrils, creating a sensation of drowning. In "spicy soup" torture, instead of water, spicy soup broth is poured in through the nostrils, creating a sensation of drowning as well as excruciating pain.]

To describe the terror of his experience, Kim told an ironic funny story that he had heard from his prison mate, who was also turned into a spy through torture. The prison mate could no longer stand the torture, and confessed a made-up story that while staying in Japan, he went over to North Korea, received spy training and returned to South Korea. The interrogator asked him how long the boat ride between Japan and Wonsan was. He replied with a guess: "a couple of hours." The interrogator retorted: "No way. It takes five, six hours just to get to South Korea from Japan by boat." The prison mate yelled: "What, have you tried going to North Korea on a spy boat? I'm the guy who actually went. Do you know how fast North Korean spy boats are? It pretty much flies across the sea and barely touches the water!"

The interrogator could say nothing to that. Then he asked where the prison mate went after Wonsan. The prison mate replied that he went to Pyongyang by train, and the interrogator again asked, "How long did that take?" The prison mate added some more time and replied, "Three or four hours, maybe." The interrogator raised his voice again: "No way. North Korean railroad is decrepit and winding." The prison mate yelled again: "Why do you keep nitpicking? Have you ridden the train from Wonsan to Pyongyang? I'm the guy who rode that! It's fast if the train goes with just me in the middle of the night without stopping at stations!"

The audience broke out in laughter -- they could not help but laugh at the desperation. Kim also showed a little bit of smile for the first time as he told the story. But then Kim said something unexpected; he had never told anyone what he had experienced. "I didn't want to add my pain on top of what my family suffered already. I was just going to take this to the grave. And if I told anyone else outside of the family, I thought people would say 'he must have done something to get that kind of treatment.'" The day was the third time he ever told his harrowing story. The first time was to the psychiatrist Jeong Hye-Shin in a counseling session arranged thanks to Democratization Family Assistance Association, and the second time was yesterday's performance.

Kim's face particularly changed when he spoke of his son. Kim said he could not sing well, unlike his son who work as a singer at clubs. But he had one song he liked to sing -- "Lady I miss" by Hyeon Cheol. He changed the lyrics from "lady" to "son", and mumbled out the song: "The times we loved / I remember when they flash by / I remember the person who is no longer here / Where he might be living in this world / My son I miss / Ah my son, my son, I want to see you if in a dream."

The father had never gone to see his son on a stage, because he felt sorry and embarrassed. Likewise, the son had to keep appearing on the stage to make a living -- he did not see his father on the stage either. The audience took on the son's task instead, and gave a rousing applause to Kim who shared his deeply buried story. In an age flooded with scripted "reality shows," it was a stage that showed the true strength of real reality.

리얼리티는 힘이 세다 [Dong-A Ilbo blog]

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  1. Thank you for sharing this. I haven't heard about it at all. Reading it brought me to tears.

  2. Thank you for translating this moving article into English for us poor ignorant fellows who cannot read Korean yet.

  3. Thank you for sharing. This is a good reminder, even if it's a really sobering reminder. It echoes (painfully) much of the "Disappearances" take took place in Argentina under its dictatorship.


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