Donald Trump used the harrowing story of a North Korean defector to highlight the brutality of Kim Jong-un’s regime during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
Ji Seong-ho, who was among the guests of honour for the president’s speech to Congress, was hailed as "an inspiration to us all" and received a standing ovation from the lawmakers.
The president described how Mr Ji was a "starving boy in North Korea" 22 years ago when he tried to steal coal from a train to barter for food.
"In the process, he passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs," Mr Trump said.
Mr Ji lost his left leg above the knee and his left hand at the wrist, enduring "amputations without anything to dull the pain".
The president said Mr Ji was later tortured after returning from a brief trip to China. "His tormentors wanted to know if he had met any Christians. He had – and he resolved to be free," the president said.
In 2006, Mr Ji escaped North Korea via the Tumen River.
"I knew from that point, the next time I go to North Korea will be when reunification finally happens," he said in a 2012 interview, recalling the moment he pulled himself out of the water and onto the banks of the Chinese side.
Mr Trump described how "Seong-ho travelled thousands of miles on crutches across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed. His father was caught trying to escape, and was tortured to death".
When he arrived in South Korea, the doctors were shocked at his condition. "They said that of all the North Koreans that make it here, someone with such disabilities was rare to see," Mr Ji said in the interview.
The 35-year-old now helps rescue other defectors from North Korea and "broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears the most – the truth", Mr Trump said.
"Seong-ho’s story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom," the president said, as the defector held his old crutches aloft.
In numbers | North Korean defectors
Mr Ji has spoken of his ordeal in the past.
"I needed surgery (after the rail accident), but they didn’t have anaestheic," he said in 2014. "I remember the doctor carrying me into the operating room and they had to hold me down while they operated. I could hear the saw going through my bones."
After the operation, he said hospital staff gave him cigarettes as painkillers before his leg became infected and required a second amputation, this time above the knee. He was sent home after just 15 days.
Discussing his detention after returning from China, he said: "They told me that because I was disabled, I had hurt the dignity of North Korea by going to China to beg and that I had humiliated Kim Jong-il. They told me the people in North Korea are happy so how dare I go there and be a beggar.
"They said people like me should just die," he added. "That really hurt."
FAQ | North Korean defection
Mr Ji described the harsh treatment of disabled people in North Korea when he addressed a British parliamentary inquiry in 2014.
"In North Korea, the handicapped are not divided in terms of their disability, but whether you are a child of the elite or not," he said.
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"Only the children of the elite have good medical facilities and expensive wheelchairs, and only they get to go things like the Paralympics," he said, alluding to the 17-year-old North Korean swimmer Rim Ju Song at the London Paralympics in 2012.
Donald Trump’s State of the Union address
He claims that babies with disabilities are taken away by hospital staff, never to be seen again, and that children with developmental difficulties are neglected until they die.
Mr Trump also used the address to acknowledge the parents of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after being released from detention in North Korea.
"You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all," the president said. "Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve."