North Korea prison camp survivor says guilt made him suicidal

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se (centre), Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (left) and North Korean defector Shin Dong Hyuk attend an event on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Sept 23, 2014 at the Waldorf
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se (centre), Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (left) and North Korean defector Shin Dong Hyuk attend an event on human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Sept 23, 2014 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. -- PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (AFP) - A prominent North Korean prison camp survivor said on Tuesday he had contemplated suicide after Pyongyang broadcast what he insisted was a coerced TV interview with his father.

Mr Shin Dong Hyuk was born and spent his first 23 years in a prison camp where he says he was tortured and subjected to forced labour before escaping in 2005. The 32-year-old has since campaigned to highlight rights abuses in the isolated North, which he detailed in a best-selling book "Escape from Camp 14".

North Korea has sought to discredit Mr Shin as a fabulist and criminal, and in late October it showed a television interview with his father calling Shin a "liar" and denying the family was even in a labour camp.

Mr Shin said at the time that his father had been taken "hostage" and on Tuesday he spoke of the guilt-fuelled desperation he felt at the pressures his family had likely faced as a result of his escape and rights advocacy. "I was so shocked when I finally recognised my father... I wanted to kill myself," he said in an interview with Seoul's YTN news channel.

Mr Shin said he had never felt close to his father in the camp, where love was an unaffordable luxury and the only real social interaction was a competition for food.

"But now I feel so guilty thinking of all the suffering he must have gone through for all these years because of me," Mr Shin said.

Reiterating his belief that his father had been coerced into denouncing him, Mr Shin challenged the North to allow a reunion.

"If people really live as happily and freely as the North claims, let me meet my father," Mr Shin said.

"I have so many questions for him, including why I was born there to begin with."

Mr Shin testified before the recent UN Commission of Inquiry that concluded North Korea was committing human rights abuses "without parallel in the contemporary world".

The commission's report laid the foundation for a United Nations' resolution that urged the Security Council to refer the Pyongyang regime to the International Criminal Court on possible charges of crimes against humanity.

In a column published in the Washington Post last week, Mr Shin said he "would not be silenced" despite his guilt about the father's suffering.

"Injustice cannot cover up justice. I have an obligation to those still in the camps, as does everyone in the outside world," he wrote.