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World's Longest Held Political Prisoner Released

On August 15, 1995, Kim Sun Myung was released from a South Korean prison after spending more than 43 years in captivity. Kim had the unhappy distinction of being the world's longest held political prisoner. Kim was captured 43 years and ten months ago in 1951 by American military forces fighting to prevent Korean unification. Kim was initially sentenced to death for espionage by the South Korean government, a charge he denies. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. A steadfast communist, Kim could have been released decades earlier had he renounced his political beliefs and denounced North Korea and communism. The South Korean government kept Kim in solitary confinement for decades, with no news, losing his vocabulary from having nothing to read and no one to talk to and going blind from cataracts prison doctors refused to treat. He received no visits throughout his incarceration. Over the years Kim was beaten, starved, tortured, threatened with execution and watched his fellow prisoners die at the hands of South Korean government agents yet he did not capitulate.

The 70 year old Kim was released as a "gesture of reconciliation" by the South Korean government, along with over 1,800 other political prisoners. Until his release Kim had never seen a television or used a flush toilet. Kim commented upon his release: "They say that when you hammer steel, it only gets harder. Well, when you hit people, you just turn them into enemies, and they become stronger."

When skeptical reporters asked Kim if his faith in communism was shaken by events in Eastern Europe and developments in South Korea he was nonplused. When driven through Seoul, the South Korean capital, he was not overawed by the highways or skyscrapers. "It's changed so much that I don't recognize any of it. But this kind of thing doesn't impress me, because there are still a lot of poor people. These tall buildings are the labor of poor people. Did you ever see any rich people digging on a construction site? The fight against poverty goes on."

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