SEOUL, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- In the wake of Shin Dong-hyuk's escape for North Korea in 2006 -- and his subsequent discovery in China by journalist Blaine Harden -- the 32-year-old defector has become one of the world's most oft cited chroniclers of North Korean human rights abuses.
But new details have emerged suggesting Shin fabricated parts of his story. Over the weekend, the activist apologized for inaccuracies in Harden's biography Escape from Camp 14 -- a book that (combined with Shin's testimony) moved the United Nations to probe and officially condemn Kim Jong Un for a litany of alleged human rights violations.
Harden was the first to go public with news that Shin had lied about portions of his backstory. Over the weekend, Harden wrote on his website: "On Friday, Jan. 16, I learned that Shin Dong-hyuk, the North Korean prison camp survivor who is the subject of 'Escape from Camp 14,' had told friends an account of his life that differed substantially from my book."
Harden said he has contacted Shin and pressed him to explain himself and highlight the discrepancies. In a later update to his site, Harden recounted an clarification from Shin: "'I didn't realize that changing these details would be important,' he said. 'I feel very bad that I wasn't able to come forward with the full truth at the beginning.'"
"In light of my conversation with Shin, I am working with my publisher to gather more information and amend the book," Harden wrote.
Shin issued his own apology on Facebook, and both he and his biographer maintain that the discrepancies are mostly timeline details -- insisting that the meat of his story (the details of his imprisonment, torture and escape) remains true.
One of the main discrepancies concerns exactly when and where Shin was imprisoned. The 32-year-old now admits to having not spent all of his time in Camp 14, as is claimed in the book. He has now acknowledged that he was transferred for several years to the slightly less oppressive (by North Korean standards) Camp 18.
Advocates of North Korean prisoners, refugees and defectors have called on the public to refrain from doubting other North Korean prison camp survivors on account of Shin's fabrications.
Officials say the human rights case against North Korea is strong with or without Shin's accounts of abuse.
"It's a very small part of a very long story," Michael Kirby, chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into North Korea," told CNN. "And it really doesn't affect the credibility of the testimony, which is online. Lots of people took part (in) this inquiry. Their stories are powerful and convincing, and these stories do not only represent Shin but other people in North Korea."