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For six years, Lee was imprisoned in Kaechon concentration camp where she has reported witnessing forced abortions, infanticide, several instances of rape, public executions, testing of biological weapons on prisoners (see human experimentation in North Korea), extreme malnutrition and various other forms of inhumane conditions and depravity. It is not clear why she was released, although Lee suspects that the same officials responsible for jailing her were themselves the subject of investigations by higher-ranking members of North Korea's government.
Lee wrote several letters of protest to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il about her cruel treatment in the camp but never received a response and was eventually threatened with unspecified consequences if she wrote any more letters. She managed to reunite with her son and escape from North Korea soon afterward, converting to Christianity along the way. Her husband disappeared during her imprisonment and she has never heard from him since.
Since escaping with her son via China to South Korea in 1995, Lee has written Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman, a memoir of her six year imprisonment on false charges in Kaechon concentration camp. She has testified before the US Congress and at churches worldwide, estimating that in her camp alone there were at least 6,000 political prisoners. Ms. Lee has been partially disabled due to the physical torture she was subjected to for well over a year, including but not limited to water torture.
Along with fellow North Korean prison camp internees Kang Chol-Hwan and An Hyuk (both were in Yodok concentration camp), she received the Democracy Award from the American non-profit organization National Endowment for Democracy in July 2003.
- Lee Soon Ok (June 2002). "Testimony before the United States Congress".
- Martin, Bradley K. (2004). Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty. New York, New York: Thomas Dunne Books. p. 613. ISBN 0-312-32322-0.
- "Three N. Koreans Named Winner of NED's Democracy Award", Yonhap News, 2003-07-16, retrieved 2010-02-26
- United States Senate Hearings: Testimony of Ms. Soon Ok Lee – Lee Soon-oks testimony to the US Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2002
- Lee, Soon Ok. Eyes of the Tailless Animals: Prison Memoirs of a North Korean Woman. Living Sacrifice Book Co, 1999. ISBN 978-0-88264-335-9 꼬리 없는 짐승들의 눈빛
- "Made in North Korea", Harper's Magazine Vol. 305 Issue 1830, November 2002, pp. 20–22.
- "A survivor: Soon Ok Lee", Crisis in the Koreas, MSNBC, 2003
- "Soon Ok Lee", World Christian Ministries
- "Interview: Soon Ok Lee", AsiaLink, 2003
- Martin, Bradley K. "Under the loving care of the fatherly leader", 2004; p. 611
- "The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps", Committee for Human Rights in North Korea
- "Praying for a Revolution in North Korea", Persecution.tv; pp. 6–7