North Korean defectors are crucial — but sometimes unreliable — witnesses

Anna Fifield writes: Always get a second source. It’s one of the fundamental rules of journalism.

But what do you do if the first source is an escapee from one of the most brutal prison camps on the planet, a camp so brutal that only one person is known to have escaped from it?

That was the conundrum facing Blaine Harden, the former Washington Post journalist who wrote Escape from Camp 14 about Shin Dong-hyuk, who said he was born in the North Korean total control camp, forced to watch his mother and brother be executed there, tortured there, and eventually escaped.

Now, Shin has admitted that he left out some key parts of the story – like the fact that he spent most of his childhood across the Taedong river in Camp 18, a less draconian prison (although in North Korea, that’s a matter of degree). But, he says, the torture he described to Harden all happened, just in a different place and at a different time. [Continue reading…]

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