Very little data is known about the prison camps in North Korea. They are often referred to as political prison camps, reform institutions (as referred to in the Criminal Code of North Korea)61, re-educational and correctional institutions, detention camps, gulags, and are often compared to the German concentration camps from World War II and the Soviet Gulag. What is known about the camps, their conditions, the torture that is suffered there and the approximate number of prisoners is told from former prisoners that have managed to live through the camp one way or another and escape, or from former workers or guards who have also escaped.
Kim Il Sung established the camps in 1972. 62 There are ten camps containing an approximated 200,000 citizens combined "where conditions are so harsh that an estimated 400,000 have died over the last 30 years". 63 According to Human Rights Without Frontiers, there are a total of ten concentration camps.
In the North Province of Hamkyung-Life Imprisonment Zone, there are six: Onsong Changpyong Family Camp No. 12, Chonsong Family Camp No. 13, Hoeryong Family Camp No. 2265, Chongjin Singles' Prison No. Kyongsong Family Camp No. 11, and Hwangsong Family Camp No. 16.
The Yodok Offenders and Family Camp No. 13 is located in the South Province of Hamkyong. These are the sectors for reeducation and life imprisonment. In the North Province of Pyong'an is the Chonma Family Camp No. 27 and finally there are two camps in the South Province of Pyong'an: Kaechon Family Camp No. 14 and Pyongyang Senugho Area Hwachon Dong Offender's Camp. 66 There are many actions that may lead to imprisonment in North Korea.
Also, under a directive issued by Kim Jong Il's father, Jim Il Sung (founder of the North Korean regime), "three generations of a dissident's family can be jailed simply on the basis of a denunciation. "67 Therefore, entire families, even grandchildren may be imprisoned on the basis of a political statement. "This is in order to eradicate the seed of revolt. "68 For example, Kang Chol Hwan69 was imprisoned at the age of 10 because his grandfather made complimentary statements about Japanese capitalism.
His grandfather was never seen again and the conditions inside the prison took his father's life. Tell bout his article. Likewise, when Sun-ok Lee, a woman political prisoner, was imprisoned her son (a graduate of Kim Il Sing University) and her husband were also imprisoned for her alleged wrongs. Her husband died in the prison. This is a collectivist philosophy and this is the reason that many North Korean defectors will not speak out and tell their stories: they are afraid that their families will be imprisoned.
70 When some do reveal their stories, they do not reveal their true identities to avoid this possibility. 71 One of the comprehensive accounts of the experience in the North Korean prison camps is that of Sun-ok Lee, a former female prisoner of Kaechon political prison. 72 She gave testified before the U. S. Congress regarding her experiences. Sun-ok Lee was imprisoned on a false charge of embezzlement in 1984. She said that until this time, she "was a normal gullible North Korean citizen, loyal to the Leader and Party, and believed that North Korea was the people's paradise.
"73 She received a term of 13 years, but only served seven when released in 1992 under a surprise amnesty. While at the camp, Sun-ok Lee served as an accountant. 74 In general, "prisoner[s] have no right to talk, laugh, sing or look in a mirror. Prisoners must kneel down on the found and keep their heads down deeply whenever called by a guard. Prisoners have to work as slaves for 18 hours a day. "76 Sun-ok reports that about 1,000 prisoners die each year, but a fresh supply of new prisoners was obtained yearly in order to meet the production quotas the prison had in the factories.
During her term, she cannot recall anyone else being released, other than herself. Sleeping conditions are treacherous in these prisons. Women, men and children are often given different jobs based on their sex or age. For example, the Kaechon Women's Prison has eleven work units: miscellaneous factory, export factory, shoe-making factory, leather-rubber factory, clothing factory, fabric-cutting factory, work preparation unit, maintenance unit, drop-out punishment unit, farm unit and kitchen unit.
The entire unit is held responsible for the mistakes of any one prisoner, and as a result, newcomers are not usually welcome. Prison guards sit in glass boxes at the factory while overseeing the prisoner's work. These boxes allow the guards to observe the prisoners while avoiding the stench of the factory. Sun-ok Lee states that the "prison guards always wear masks and keep some distance from the prisoners because of the bad smell. "77 There are a few reasons why the smell is so unbearable. For one, the prisoners are only allowed to take showers twice a year.
Sun-ok Lee reports that the entire prison is full of the awful smell of sweat. In addition, the prisoners often urinate and defecate while working because they cannot wait. When a prisoner is called, the prisoner is to run to the guard and sit on her knees with her head down. The prisoner can only answer the questions asked and say nothing else. Prisoners are oftentimes kicked in the face or chest for slow answers or movement. Also, prisoners are severely punished for raising their heads or stretching their bodies.