SEOUL (Reuters) - A prominent North Korean defector who has advocated U.N. action to stop the country’s human rights abuses said on Tuesday authorities have taken his father hostage in a campaign to discredit his story of survival and escape from a prison camp.
North Korea has been on a diplomatic campaign to counter charges by a U.N. commission that highlighted widespread human rights abuses and a move by some member states to refer it to an international tribunal for crimes against humanity.
North Korea says the accusations of human rights abuses are fabrications and “wild rumors” peddled by “hostile forces” determined to undermine its leadership, and points to the United States as the mastermind.
Shin Dong-hyuk is one of the most prominent defectors from North Korea whose account of torture and escape from a political prison camp gripped international investigators examining the North’s human rights conditions.
He said the North had put his father in a propaganda video released this week that portrays Shin as a criminal active in fabricating human rights problems.
“The dictator is holding my father hostage,” Shin said in a post on his Facebook page on Tuesday, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The page carried a series of still images of an elderly man taken from the video interview.
The man in the video, which was seen by Reuters, was speaking in a modestly furnished Korean-style living room. He urges Shin to “come to your senses and return to the embrace of the Party,” referring to the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, which Kim Jong Un heads.
Speaking to Reuters later by telephone from South Korea, where he lives, Shin said he could not be sure where the video was taken or whether his father had been brought from a prison camp to produce the footage.
“I had thought my father had died. But this is definitely my father,” he said. “I’d never thought I’d be grateful to North Korea ... for showing me that he is alive.”
“I think it’s probably because of everything that’s going on at the United Nations ... maybe the message is if I refuse to be quiet, they will kill him.”
The video was titled “Truth and Lies” and was released by the China-based Website Uriminzokkiri, which carries pro-North Korea propaganda, aimed at Koreans abroad.
It also showed people it said knew Shin before his escape and by his former name “Shin In Gun”.
Those interviewed in the video said Shin was lazy and unreliable as a worker at a mine, and he left the country to avoid punishment for the rape of a 13-year-old girl and he now spread “preposterous false information” about human rights.
Shin said the accusation of sexual assault was a fabrication which he had heard before.
Neither the narrator in the video nor any of the people filmed made any mention of North Korea’s network of prison camps where political prisoners are tortured and undergo forced labor, according to testimony from defectors, including Shin.
There are 150,000-200,000 people in North Korean prison camps, according to international human rights groups, and defectors say many inmates are malnourished or worked to death.
Shin has said he endured starvation and torture in a prison camp that has left his arms disfigured and back permanently scarred.
He has testified at U.N. hearings and for the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report into North Korean human rights abuses that has become the basis of the move at the United Nations to refer the state to the International Criminal Court.
Editing by Jack Kim and Robert Birsel