Friday, November 21, 2008

Defector recalls North Korea's prison camps

The condemned inmate, his body torn apart by guard dogs, slumped unconscious as the three executioners fired. The bullets shattered his skull, splattering blood near other prisoners forced to watch. His offense: trying to escape from the remote prison camp in North Korea.

Says former prisoner Jung Gyoung-il said, recalling the 2001 execution. "That's worse than the way animals are slaughtered."

North Korea runs at least five large political prison camps, together holding an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 inmates, according to the U.S. State Department. The gulags remain one of the Stalinist regime's most effective means of controlling its 23 million people, analysts say.

Former prisoner Jung said he spent three years in Camp No. 15 in Yodok, about 70 miles northeast of the capital. After months of torture, Jung had lost nearly 80 pounds. The 400 inmates in his section subsisted on 20 ounces of corn each -- the equivalent of one medium-size can daily -- while toiling at mines, farms and factories for 13 to 15 hours a day. Many died of hunger and diseases brought on by malnutrition, he said. Some managed to trap vermin and insects.


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