Biographies of 2003 DEMOCRACY AWARD Honorees

An Hyuk, 35, was arrested after he voluntarily returned to North Korea from China and confessed his escape to the authorities. In January 1986 An Hyuk was accused of spying and detained in a secret detention center run by the State Security Protection Agency. For nearly two years he was imprisoned in the Yodok camp. He escaped from North Korea in 1992 and entered South Korea later that year. He has since written two books in Korean and Japanese that reveal the inhuman conditions in Yodok. He is currently carrying out underground activities to rescue North Korean refugees in China.

Kang Cheol-hwan, 35, was nine years old when he was sent with his family to the Yodok prison camp following an accusation against his grandfather, a high-level government bureaucrat, of “high treason.” Kang and his family spent the following ten years in the gulag, where he grew up tortured by camp guards, working twelve hours a day of hard labor and going to “school” for two hours of daily political training. He documented this experience in the highly acclaimed memoir Aquariums of Pyongyang. Today he lives in Seoul, where he writes for the daily Chosun Ilbo.

Soon Ok Lee, was supervisor of the North Korean state material distribution center prior to her arrest in 1986 on trumped up charges of embezzlement. Soon Ok Lee spent the next six years in the gulag under the most brutal conditions. Three years after her unexpected release in 1992, she escaped to the South with her son. In 1996 she published Eyes of the Tailless Animal: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman. Today she conducts a personal campaign to expose and end the gulag.

Benjamin Yoon, 73, is director of the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, which he founded in 1996 “to help the forgotten victims in North Korea by shedding light on the violations of human rights” there. The first such private group established in South Korea, the Alliance has published detailed information about human rights abuses, sparked the creation of an international human rights campaign on North Korea, and created schools in the South to provide North Korean escapees with basic and civic education. Yoon is the former head of Amnesty International in South Korea and was awarded the Civic Merit Medal by former President Kim.