A Venezuelan poet who was imprisoned by North Korea after working for that country's propaganda ministry has written a harrowing account of his seven years in prison, which provides a rare look at the inner workings of one of the world's most isolated nations.
The report, by Ali Lameda, 55, has been distributed by Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. That group's intercession assisted in gaining Lameda's release in 1974.
Lameda's account describes North Korea as a country that is obsessively suspicious of outsiders, slavishly follows the cult of leader Kim II Sung and is brutally cruel toward those who run afoul of its system.
Lameda says the first of his two arrests came after he told the government that the propanganda he was handling was too implausible to be believed by the Spanish-speaking people to whom it was directed.
Lameda also relates the ordeal of Jacques Sedillot, a veteran French Communist activist who had served as a colonel in the Spanish Republican army, who was also arrested in 1967. Sedillot, while in his 60s, was also recruited by the North Korean propaganda ministry.
He was sent back to France to find out what impact North Korean propaganda was having there and reported that the French simply did not believe that at the age of 14 Kim II Sung was leading the Korean Communist Party and waging a victorious war against the Japanese Army.
Sedillot's and Lameda's questioning of the propaganda came at a difficult time for North Korea. Its seven-year economic plan was in disarray, a purge of potential rivals to Kim II Sung was under way and the cult of the North Korean president was given new impetus.
Following his arrest, Lameda was taken to a prison where he was interrogated frequently.
"Hunger was used as a control," he wrote. "No more than 300 grams of food per day was given to each prisoner. The conditions of the prison were apalling. No change of clothes in years, nor of food plates. The place lacked property sanitary facilities.
Lameda says he was not tortured, "if by this one means the systematic infliction of pain, but if terrible hunger and continual nastiness come under this definition, then I was."
After a year Lameda was released, with the expectation that he would be permitted to leave North Korea. Within a few days, however, he was rearrested. He wrote that apparently the security police had hidden a microphone in the apartment he shared with a woman companion. His criticisms of the government to her were presumably the basis for his second arrest.
"What did they expect me to say to her when I returned from a year's detention in such a bad physical condition . . . my body covered in sores, and suffereing hemorrhages?"
He was accused of being a spy and of propagandizing against North Korea and, after a hearing in which he was not permitted to defend himself, was sentenced to 20 years.
In his confinement, again, their was little food and no fresh clothing. His cell was unheated, he said, and his feet still suffer from the effects of frostbite.
Lameda says that because he was a foreigner he was kept separated from other inmates. Even before his first arrest, Lameda says, "I was never able to approach any Korean on a person level" and was not permitted to send or receive mail from abroad.