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29 October 2014
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This World uncovers the "gas chambers" of North Korea

Witnesses tell the BBC's This World (BBC TWO, 1 February 2004, 9.00pm) that North Korea is killing political prisoners in gas chambers.

The programme has also uncovered documentary evidence that North Korea is now testing new chemical weapons on women and children, the families of dissidents and political prisoners held in secret jails.

Kwon Hyuk (his new name) was the former military attaché at the North Korean embassy in Beijing and chief of management at North Korea's prison camp 22 (or "Management Centre" as they call them).

He says he has chosen to speak because he wants the world to know what is happening there and for the first time has decided to reveal on public record what he witnessed in Camp 22.

Using a drawing, Kwon Hyuk, describes the gas chamber he saw: "The glass chamber... is sealed airtight. It is 3.5 metre wide, 3 metre long and 2.2 metre high.

Kwon Hyuk's drawing"This is the injection tube going through the unit and it is attached like this. Normally, a family sticks together... and individual prisoners stand separately around the corners.

"Scientists observe the entire process from above, through the glass."

"I witnessed a whole family being tested on suffocating gas and dying in the gas chamber. The parents, son and a daughter.

"The parents were vomiting and dying, but till the very last moment they tried to save kids by doing mouth to mouth breathing.

"At the time I felt that they thoroughly deserved such a death. Because all of us were led to believe that all the bad things that were happening to North Korea was their fault; that we were poor, divided and not making progress as a country."

Asked about the children Kwon Hyuk says: "It would be a total lie for me to say I felt sympathetic about the children dying such a painful death.

"Under the society and the regime I was in at the time I only felt that they were the enemies. So I felt no sympathy or pity for them at all."

He tells the BBC's Olenka Frenkiel: "Before escorting them to the lab, we receive transfer letters containing details of the prisoners. We pass on such letters to the agents from the National Security Agency for a signature."

This World features a document recently smuggled out of North Korea stamped "Top Secret" and headed "Transfer Letter" that clearly explains that political prisoners are used for the purpose of human biological experimentation and for production of biological weapons.

The document was obtained from another person who took it from the prison and smuggled it out of North Korea in his trousers. His motive was the same, to alert the world.

Kim Sang Hun, who has a long history of human rights work relating to North Korea, says the document is genuine:

"It carries a North Korean format, the quality of paper is North Korean and it has an official stamp of agencies involved with this human experimentation.

"A stamp they cannot deny. And it carries names of the victims and where and why and how these people were experimented."

Kim Sang Hun adds: "I know the system and I have shown this to a number of North Korean defectors. I heard similar stories from more then 20 or 30 refugees.

"Their testimonies converged to one fact: that human biological experimentation is taking place; for many years and systematically. And the number of victims are very many. It is wide-spread practice."

Sun Ok Lee, a former prisoner in a North Korean prison, says: "An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners.

"One of the guards handed me a basket full of soaked cabbage, told me not to eat it but to give it to the fifty women. I gave them out and heard a scream from those who had eaten them. They were all screaming and vomiting blood.

"All who ate the cabbage leaves started violently vomiting blood and screaming with pain. It was hell. In less than 20 minutes they were quite dead."

While North Korea tries to win concessions in return for axing its nuclear programme, Olenka Frenkiel hears testimonies from witnesses of the regime's brutal crimes against its own people.

As the crisis talks on North Korea's nuclear programme grind on, one thing is certain - human rights will not be factored in to any deal.

Every year a hundred thousand North Koreans try to escape by crossing the frozen river Tumen to China. Only a tiny fraction reach safety in South Korea.

When the Chinese catch them, as they often do, they send them back to North Korea, to prison, forced labour and sometimes execution.

Hundreds of thousands of North Korea's citizens are imprisoned without charge, not for any crime but because their relatives are believed to be critical of the regime.

In North Korea women and children find themselves in prison camps because according to Kim Jong Il, the country's leader, and his late father before him President Kim Il Sung, the bad blood and the seed of any dissident must be rooted out down to three generations.

Forced labour and starvation rations ensure that prisoners are too weak to rebel. Babies conceived in the camps are routinely aborted or murdered in front of their mothers. Prisoners of all kinds are tortured every day. Those who try to escape are publicly executed in front of all camp inmates.

This documentary airs for the first time the accounts of those who have witnessed these present day atrocities, not only the victims but the perpetrators too.

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