200,000 still held inside North Korea prison camps
인권위, 북 정치범 실태 첫 언급
Some 200,000 people are still confined at political prisoners’ camps in North Korea, the National Human Rights Commission said yesterday.
The state-run agency released the statistic after an official survey and analysis. It was the first such announcement from the commission. The analysis was based on research done by from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, a corporation established in 2003.
In a press release, the commission said the North has operated camps since the late 1950s, and their number had climbed to 13 by the late 1970s.
But after a series of shutdowns and mergers, only six camps are currently running. At all the camps, except some areas within a Yodok camp in South Hamgyong province, a mountainous northern county, the prisoners are confined permanently.
The camps are managed by guards and officials who take full advantage of the prisoners’ labor capabilities and issue rankings to top inmates in order to heighten their loyalty, the report said.
The punishments have become more severe since the recent forced repatriation, according to the commission. In the early 2000s, prisoners were disciplined simply as political prisoners, but guards have altered the types and degrees of penalties according to the background of the prisoner.
“Love, happiness and enjoyment are words that you cannot even imagine in the camps,” said Shin Dong-hyuk, 27, a former prisoner who defected to South Korea in 2005. “Inmates were disciplined with only a limited number of words and sentiment. Prisoners were treated like slaves.”
Shin was born inside the Yodok camp in 1982 because two of his father’s brothers had defected to the South during the Korean War (1950-53). He said until his defection, he had never seen the world outside the camp, but had been forced to watch his mother and older brother openly executed in November 1996.
His grandfather and father, who were arrested on charges of treason, had their property confiscated and were confined in another prisoner camp.
The survey was conducted for nine months and included interviews with 17 former prisoners and 32 defectors who had been forcibly repatriated to the North since April 2009. An additional 322 North Koreans who defected to the South last year were also interviewed.
By Kang Ki-heon, Lee Min-yong [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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