Born and raised in a North Korean gulag

On Nov. 29, 1996, in a North Korean prison camp, Shin Dong Hyok (14) and his father were made to sit in the front row of a crowd assembled to watch executions. They had already spent seven months in a torture compound, and Shin assumed they were also going to be executed. Instead, the guards executed his mother and brother. Shin was born in a prison camp and escaped in 2005.

Shin is the first North Korean who is known to have escaped from a prison camp. He was confined to a “total-control zone.”

According to the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul: “Prisoners sent to a total-control zone can never come out. They are put to work in mines or logging camps until they die. Thus the authorities don’t even bother to give them ideological education. They only teach them skills necessary for mining and farming.”

There are at least four other prison camps in North Korea. These others are far less known because so few have emerged to describe them.

According to Shin, the prison authorities matched his father with his mother and made them spend five days together before separating them. This is known as “award marriage,” a privilege given only to outstanding inmates. An exemplary worker might be allowed to visit the woman chosen as his wife a few times a year.

Young children lived with their mothers, who worked from 5 a.m. to midnight. Once they turned 11, guards moved the children to communal barracks but were allowed to visit their mothers if they excelled at their work.

Inmates were fed the same meal three times a day: a bowl of steamed corn and a salty vegetable broth.

Shin’s life changed in 1996, when his mother and brother were accused of trying to escape. Guards interrogated him in an underground cell. They stripped and hung him by his arms and legs from the ceiling, and held him over hot charcoal.

During the interrogations he learned that his father’s family belonged to a “hostile class” because his uncles had collaborated with the South Korean Army during the Korean War.

On Jan. 2, 2005, when Shin and his co-worker were collecting firewood near the camp’s electrified fence and could not see any guards, they ran.

In July 2005, Shin reached China. In February 2006, a South Korean helped him seek asylum at the South Korean Consulate in Shanghai. He arrived in Seoul last August.

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Former head of China SFDA executed

China on Tuesday executed the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), Zheng Xiaoyu. The Supreme People’s Court approved the death sentence of Mr. Zheng, 62, for accepting 6.5 million yuan (approximately $850,000) in bribes to allow substandard medicine slip past regulations. He was accused of taking bribes from eight pharmaceutical companies.

Mr. Zheng’s execution follows a string of food and drug safety lapses on products made in China. This is, however, the first time China has imposed a death sentence on an official of his rank since 2000. The People’s Daily, the voice of the ruling Communist Party, said the harsh punishment was intended to deter other corrupt officials and President Hu Jintao’s attempt to promote a tough, clean government image.

Under Mr. Zheng’s tenure at the SFDA from 1997 to 2005 dozens died in China from fake or bad drugs. One antibiotic caused the deaths of at least ten people. In another case, a gallbladder medicine containing the wrong ingredients is believed to have led to the deaths of at least five people. An SFDA spokesperson, Yan Jiangying says the agency is working hard to tighten its safety procedures.

Skeptics, however, say this harsh sentence may deter corrupt officials momentarily, but Mr. Zheng’s execution cannot stop corruption because it is so widespread and the risk to officials are so low.

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Indonesia sues Suharto, former dictator

Indonesia sued Suharto, the former dictator, for $1.54 billion. Suharto fell from power nine years ago.

The Indonesian government has claimed that Suharto and his foundation stole $441 million from state institutions between 1978 and 1998. The government also seeks $1.1 billion in damages. Suharto has avoided criminal corruption charges by claiming bad health.  He is 86.

Transparency International has estimated that Suharto and his family amassed up to $35 billion between his ascent to power in 1966 and the end of his rule in 1998. Suharto pressed state banks, other government institutions, and Indonesian businesses to give part of profits to his foundations. Suharto claimed that he collected the money to give scholarships to poor children. Instead, prosecutors accuse him of diverting the money to his other family foundations and companies.

Mr Suharto’s youngest son, Tommy, and half-brother Probosutedjo are the only family members convicted of corruption.

Tommy (Hutomo Mandala Putra) served five years for ordering the murder of a Supreme Court judge who convicted him of corruption in a land scam. The government seeks to seize $48 million of his frozen assets.

Probosutedjo is serving four years in prison for stealing $11 million from a government reforestation fund.

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Malaysian politician’s use of a doctored photograph “distasteful”

An opposition politician and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) information chief Tian Chua has refused to apologize for posting a satirical photomontage featuring Malaysia’s deputy prime minister Najib Razak.  The photo links the nation’s prime minister to a murdered Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaaribuu.  Two of Deputy Prime Minister Razak’s police bodyguards are currently on trial, accused of killing the young woman.  Miss Shaariibuu’s body was found in a jungle clearing outside Kuala Lumpur last November.

Opposition politicians are using the Deputy Prime Minister’s link to the two bodyguards to hint at a possible political scandal, but others say Mr. Chua’s tactics are disgraceful and an example of dirty tactics.

A witness has said Mr. Tian Chua saw a photo of Miss Shaariibuu with the deputy prime minister.  This photo, however, has never been made public.  Instead, Mr. Chua created his own and put it on his website. 

What was supposedly comedy has sparked controversy.  Politicians want Mr. Chua to apologize for using the photo.  Others have demanded that action be taken against Mr. Chua.  One minister said if this were the case, others might also be tempted to insult the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr. Chua has refused to apologize or retract the photo from his website.

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Over six million Afghans face food insecurity

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 6.5 million people face food insecurity in Afghanistan.

In 2006, some areas of Afghanistan faced a food crisis when demand for food surpassed supply, FAO reported.

Floods and torrential rainfall have caused extensive damage to agriculture and livestock.

Acute malnutrition (severe weight loss) affects about 5 to 10 percent of children under five, according to the Afghan government and the UN. Acute malnutrition affects mostly children under two, and is often caused by diarrhea and other hygienic problems.

Afghanistan feeds a majority of its population through an underdeveloped agriculture system. Afghanistan is about 90 percent self-sufficient in cereal production, but it has a long way to go to properly feed its growing population, aid officials say.

Afghanistan needs to preserve its natural resources improve water and irrigation management, diversify agricultural production, expand its fruit and vegetable production, improve livestock production and help households diversify their sources of income, the FAO said.

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Indonesia police killing Papua province civilians

In Papua providence, Indonesian police beat and killed civilians and raped women during operations against separatists, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Human Rights Watch interviewed alleged victims and witness, all of whom spoke anonymously due to fears of reprisal.

The report cited investigations of eight alleged killings by police and military since 2005, and several beatings. Human Rights Watch also reported two cases of rape.

Papua became part off Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot, which has since been dismissed as a sham.

A separatist insurgency started in the majority Christian region in Muslim-majority Indonesia. Tens of thousands have died because of military action by Indonesian forces.

About 100 Papuans demonstrated outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta to demand an independence referendum.

Human Rights Watch said the abuse deepened mistrust of the national government and risked fueling separatist tensions in the region.

Human Rights Watch urged the government to open Papua to independent observers, and to allow independent and transparent investigations of rights abuses.

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Chinese official sentenced to death for corruption

Cao Wenzhuang, a former pharmaceutical registration department director at the State Food and Drug Administration in China, has been sentenced to death by the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court.  Mr. Cao is accused of accepting over $300,000 in bribes from two pharmaceutical companies who were seeking approval to sell their products. 

Mr. Cao’s sentence comes less than two months after this same court sentenced the head of the State Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, to death.  Mr. Zheng was sentenced to death in May for taking over $800,000 in bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic blamed for at least ten deaths.

Although the sentence may appear harsh, Mr. Cao’s sentence comes with a two-year reprieve, a lighter penalty that may allow him to serve his time as life in prison.  These actions by the Chinese government is also a sign that China is determined to crack down on fraud, corruption, and counterfeiting in the country.  Four other senior food and drug officials were also sentenced to long prison terms.  This comes at a time when China is under increasing international criticism over the quality and safety of its products.

Concerns began when China exported pet food contaminated with an industrial chemical.  Soon after, there were recalls of Chinese toothpaste, blocked imports of some Chinese seafood.

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Security forces surround Pakistan mosque

In Islamabad, Pakistan, hundreds of militant student are inside Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), surrounded by 12,000 Pakistani troops, defying a government order to surrender.  The mosque attempted to set up a Taliban-style justice system.

Security forces began their assault on Lal Masjid this week, despite fears that action would inflame people across the country, especially in the pro-Taliban tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.

At least 24 people have died, including militants, security officers and bystanders. Tanks fired shells at the mosque, destroying its front wall. Circling helicopters received heavy fire from within the mosque. The mosque’s chief was arrested and more than 1,000 of his followers surrendered.  Security agents caught him trying to leave the mosque wearing a burqa (head-to-toe women’s gown).

About eight explosions were followed by some gunfire, which was followed by an announcement from security force loudspeakers outside the mosque, calling on the students to surrender, a witness said.

The events followed clashes at the mosque between security forces and the militants, who have been in conflict with the government for months. At least nine people have been killed.

An estimated 1,000 students are still in the building, about half of them female students.

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Indian doctor-imposter charged with illegal abortion

Indian police have arrested a man posing as a doctor, charging him with illegally aborting female fetuses and then flushing them down the toilet. A.K. Singh ran an illegal clinic in Gurgaon (a Delhi suburb) offering sex-determination tests and abortions.

Abortion is legal in India, but the government outlawed abortion based on the sex of the fetus in 1994. Police found tiny skulls and bones in the clinic’s septic tank, as well as a pile of partly burned fetuses in the clinic building. Singh confessed to the crime, but Indian law does not accept confessions made in police custody unless they are repeated in court.

The Indian government reports that about 10 million girls have been killed over the past 20 years.  Many regions of India, including Gurgaon, report only 800 girls born for every 1,000 boys. Indian parents tend to prefer sons because daughters are expensive to marry off.

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Chinese ex-slave laborer tells his story

A 16-year-old Chinese boy, Chen, an ex-slave, told his story to the media this week. He reported that he accepted a job at a factory from a man that approached him at a train station.

He said that he was taken to a brick yard, where he was fed minimally, beaten, and forced to work without pay. As a result, his body is pocked with sores from being beaten by the guards.

Recently police have raided thousands of Chinese coal mines, freeing hundreds of workers.

The boy claims that until the raid, police were bribed by the owners of the mines. He went without a bed, shower, health care, or hair cut. Chen said that he was beaten the guards with iron bars, sticks, or bricks if he worked too slowly. 

Chen and his family are now worried about the possibility of retaliation by the brickyard and they agreed to be interviewed by media only after receiving assurances that the exact location of their home would not be identified.

Since the coal-mine scandal broke last month, more than 8,000 kilns and small coal mines in Shanxi and Henan provinces have been raided, with 591 workers freed, including 51 children.

About 160 suspected kiln bosses have been detained, and at least one village-level Communist Party secretary expelled from the party after his son was found to be operating a kiln where 31 slaves were found laboring under harsh conditions.

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Dispute over deaths in ‘Rape of Nanking’

A group of about one hundred Japanese lawmakers has said the Chinese estimate of the death toll in the ‘Rape of Nanking’ massacre has been grossly inflated.  This disagreement has led to increased friction between the two countries.  The Japanese lawmakers compiled a study indicating the deaths to be 20,000.  China has estimated the number to be over 300,000 deaths.  Historians, however, have generally  agreed that at least 150,000 civilians were slaughters and thousands of Chinese women were raped in the 1937 attack in Nanjing, then called Nanking.

When the Japanese seized the city of Nanjing in 1937, they raped thousands of Chinese women and killed thousands in what came to be known as the ‘Rape of Nanking.’  Many Japanese conservatives are now angry over what they call exaggerated stories of Japanese brutality during World War II.

Amid this new friction between China and Japan, anti-Japanese feelings over the Nanjing attacks among the Chinese have remained strong.  In its 70th anniversary, an American movie about the mass slaughter will open in China next week.  “Nanking” will premiere in Beijing and be released across China.  The movie mixes archival footage with actors’ readings of witness accounts from those who protected Chinese refugees.

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Rape of Nanking toll disputed

China says ‘Rape of Nanking’ was atrocious crime that Japanese lawmakers cannot deny

‘No massacre in Nanking,’ Japanese lawmakers say

Film about 1937 Japanese assault on ‘Nanking’ to screen in China

Afghan civilian death toll continues to rise

American and NATO forces in Afghanistan have killed at least 203 civilians so far this year.

In the past ten days, airstrikes and artillery fire targeting Taliban insurgents have killed more than 90 civilians.

Separate figures from the U.N. and Afghan and international aid groups show that the numbers of civilians killed by international forces is about equal to those killed by insurgents.

Accurate civilian death tolls are hard to come by because militants often wear civilian clothing and seek shelter in homes. Also it is not unusual for Afghans to have weapons in their homes.

The Associated Press count of civilian casualties is based on reports from Afghan and foreign officials and witnesses through Saturday, June 23. Of the 399 civilian deaths this year, 18 civilians were killed in crossfire between Taliban militants and foreign forces.

Earlier Saturday, a rocket hit a house in Pakistani territory killing nine civilians — during a battle in which NATO and American forces killed 60 suspected Taliban.

Other fighting on Saturday left some 20 militants and one coalition soldier dead.

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Peru’s former president may run for office in Japan

Peruvian ex- president Alberto Fujimori has been asked to consider running for office in Japan. He is now in Chile under house arrest, and faces extradition to because of human rights violations charges.

The Japanese People’s New Party urged Fujimori to run in July elections for the upper house of Japan’s Diet.

Fujimori was president of Peru from 1990 to 2000 and is a dual citizen of Japan and Peru. He lived in exile in Tokyo for five years, so he is technically eligible to run.

However, he is wanted by Peruvian prosecutors on several charges: ordering the murders of 25 people in 1991 and 1992, ordering the abduction and torture of opponents, and embezzling government funds. Critics say that he crushed civil liberties, rigged elections and abused human rights. If Fujimori is elected to parliament in Japan, that could affect his trial in Peru.

Fujimori resigned from office in November 2000.  He stayed in Japan until November 2005, until he flew to Chile and was arrested.

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Child labor allegedly used for 2008 Beijing Olympics official merchandise

A report by an advocacy group entitled “No medal for the Olympics on labour rights” claims four firms making official Olympic merchandise for the 2008 Beijing Olympics were exploiting workers.  Playfair, an alliance of world trade unions, found abuses at factories including child labor, forced overtime, and low wages.  Additionally, it is alleged workers are being instructed to lie about wages, poor health, and safety conditions to inspectors. 

Three of the four firms have denied these accusations.  Interviews with workers of the three firms support the firms’ denial of labor abuse.  The fourth, however, Lekit Stationery has admitted children 12 and 13 years of age were employed by one of its sub-contractors, Leter Stationery.  They say the children were employed during the school holidays last winter and did not work on official Olympic merchandise.  Lekit also insists it was not aware of its sub-contractor’s employment of children.

Lekit had originally denied these allegations, but the company only found out when Dongguan officials released the findings of an initial investigation into the issue.

The International Olympic Committee said it supports ethical practices.  Additionally, they say more stringent regulations must be made so the 2012 London Olympics will not be tarnished by similar accusations.  The speed of the Dongguan investigation shows, however, China’s desire to avoid bad publicity in the time before the 2008 Olympics.

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Olympic firms ‘abusing workers’

Olympic firm admits child labour

Chinese Olympic firms deny abuse

Cambodian, international judges announce rules for genocide trial

Special tribunal investigators cleared the last major delay of trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders. Cambodian and international judges for the United Nations-backed special court agreed on rules for the judicial process, paving the way for Khmer Rouge leaders to be held accountable for the atrocities committed during their rule. The announcement ends six months of debate.

Foreign lawyers will be allowed to represent defendants and victims may file complaints to the courts as long as they do so as a group. Cambodian judges will hold the majority but will need one supporting vote from a foreign counterpart to prevail in any decision.

The prosecution will refer their first cases to the investigating judges, who will determine whether there is sufficient evidence against Khmer Rouge leaders to bring them to full trial. The process is expected to start within a few weeks and last three years.

In 2004, after years of negotiations with UN representatives, Cambodia agreed to try a handful of Khmer Rouge leaders who were considered to be most responsible for the atrocities.

But since its establishment almost a year ago, the court has been stalled by bitter disputes between the Cambodian and foreign judges over many procedural issues, including court etiquette and registration fees for foreign defense lawyers.

The investigating judges will begin the judicial process as soon as they receive their first case from prosecutors.



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