Thursday, June 25, 2009

Overview of North Korea’s known, gulag-style prison camps

North Korean prison camps are split into two main types: Firstly the kwan li-so, translated as "political penal-labor colonies" which contain the political prisoners, and often their families, who are imprisoned without trial, usually for life. The other type of camp, the kyo-hwa-so, usually hold criminal offenders who are subject to a judicial process and fixed sentencing, after which they can be released. Kyo-hwa-so prisoners also do hard labor in mining, logging, textile manufacturing and more.

Kyo-hwa-so 1 – 6000 prisoners, Gaechun, South Pyongan province. Lee Soon Ok, who was imprisoned here until 1994, described prisoners dying from torture and maltreatment, their bodies dumped on the mountainsides "like animals".

Kwan-li-so 14 - 15,000 prisoners, near Kaechon, South Pyongan province, on the north bank of the Taedong River opposite camp 18. According to Kim Yong, who was held there from 1995-96, the main industries were mining and farming and that many people died due to malnutrition, disease and mining accidents.

Kwan-li-so 15 - 45,000 prisoners, Yodok in South Hamgyong province. Kang Chol Hwan, the author of Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, whose small village within camp 15 suffered about 100 deaths every year due to malnutrition and disease. Lee Young Kuk, a prisoner until 1999, witnessed numerous public executions and shootings in the camp.

Kwan li-so 16 - 10,000 prisoners, Hwasong, North Hamgyong province, adjacent to another highly secret location, the Mount Mantap nuclear testing site, and the Musudan-ri missile-testing facility.

Kwan li-so 18 - 50,000 prisoners, Bukchang on the south bank of the Taedong River, South Pyongan province. Kim Yong was transferred here in 1996 and escaped in 1998, said though less severe than camp 14, he still witnessed prisoners dying of malnutrition and being shot.

Kwan li-so 22 - 50,000 prisoners, Hoeryong in North Hamgyong province, the north-eastern tip of the country. Former guard Ahn Myong Chol described it as one of the largest prison camps, containing around within an area 31 miles long by 25 miles wide. Hoeryong is infamous for reports of chemical weapons experiments on humans, and glass gas chambers, revealed in a BBC documentary Axis of Evil in 2004.

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